Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from the Onofrays!

Since we didn't send Christmas cards this it is!

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to all of our friends and family!

We miss you dearly and hope that you have a wonderful holiday spending it with those you love.

P.S. This is our last post before we hit the beaches of Thailand. Cooking class in Chiang Mai for my birthday tomorrow :-)))

What happened to cheddar cheese flavor?

Frito Lay has successfully developed products to meet the pallet preferences of Koreans. One of yoru thier most famous products, Cheetos, comes in a wonderful BBQ Steak flavor.

Yum? well, not the cheddar cheese flavor that stains your fingers fluorescent orange, but good enough. It is growing on me.

Next time you are in Seoul, check out the snack aisle and you will also see Shrimp flavored snacks!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Siberian Winds....Ahhh!

Yes, Siberia is not that far from Korea, in terms of air masses. Check your world map again. I had been warned that the Siberian Winds from the northwest will create very cold, windy days here in Seoul in the winter.

Until last week, I thought "so far, so good!" 30-40F is completely bare-able and actually enjoyable. But, Tuesday and Wednesday last week brought 18F with Siberian Winds that made it feel like 4F.

Now, for those Michiganders who love the cold weather and think I am a wuss right now, please take this time to reconsider your judgement. In Michigan, 4F is only felt as you dash between buildings, cars, retaurants and food stores. In Seoul, no car for me means I walk everywhere and there is no way to escape the winds, especially with the tall buildings that block the sun. I am not complaining, just validating.

So, you may wonder how I plan to survive...bundle up like Randy's little borther in A Christmas Story...what is his name? Does anyone every remember his name?

Here is my checklist:
  • warm wool hat
  • large wool scarf that you can wrap around your face twice
  • wool mittens that thansform into gloves to allow you to have access to your fingers without taking off your gloves (necessary for getting your subway pass out or picking up Maddy's droppings!
  • Long down coat...could use a longer one than I have now to help cover more of my butt :-)
  • Thermal underwear (not shown), but for 5,000 KRW (~$4), you can get these wonderful long underweat with fleece on the inside. Let me know if you want some and I will stock up and bring back to the states. They would be great skiing attire.
  • UGG, warm fuzzy lined boots with smartwool socks underneath
  • iphone with headphones (not shown), but necessarry for entertainment. A lesson I learned by almost getting hit by a car...walk the streets of Seoul with only one headphone in your ear, because if you don't, a car, scooter, bike or ajima will surprise you. No "pedestrians first" law here.

Maddy gets bundled as well. She is not happy about this.

I know we both look like fools, but I am convinced that this is a better strategy for sustaining health than mini-skirts and high heels, which are so preferred by Korean women. More power to them!

You will also be happy to know that this weather only lasted 2 days and now we are back to 40F, sunny days here in Seoul. Until next time...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Express Bus Terminal...take me away!

So, Express Bus Terminal is the marvelous place of endless possibilities here in Seoul...
  • you can get one of hundreds of buses to take you around the city
  • you can get one of three different subway lines
  • you can go to Shinsagae Department Store (Nordstrom equivalent here) and better yet, Shinsagae Food on the bottom floor with the most marvelous selection of all kinds of food, desserts, wines, teas, western food, and a cafeteria to get it all fresh
  • you can reach Central City which has every American Chain available here in Seoul, including Krispy Kreme, TGIFridays, Dunkin, etc
  • a book store that sells exhorbitantly high-priced western books...of which I have spent way to much money on Lonely Planet travel books :-(
  • and...leaving the best for last...miles of underground shopping where you can buy anything from deodarant to bedroom furniture! Seriously...ANYTHING!
So, after picking up a pair of black pumps for $10 there, I journeyed down to the other end of the Express Bus Terminal to select som plants for our apartment. Mike has been requesting that we spruce the place up a bit and plants are good for your chi, (Gi for Koreans) right?

So, here are our new additions. Great thing about Korean customer service. Picked them out about 4PM yesterday and they were delivered at 8:05PM last that is service. Seriously, US companies would never survive here!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Maddy loves the heated floors...

For those of you who have been reading our blog from the beginning, you'll know that our apartment is heated from the floors. Just over the past few weeks, we have had to turn on the heat and are learning that heated floors get some "hot spots."

Maddy, our "sun dog" who loves basking in the sun, has managed to find the hot spots...and one is right under the desk. I have to be careful not to roll over her. Nice to have some company in the office though.

Winter Hiking at Dobongsan

Mike, me, and two guys from GM North American, Scott and Mark all decided that Saturday morning in 27 degree weather was a good time to go back to Dobongsan and hike up the mountain.

Mike and I had hiked Dobongsan before in the summer, but it seems that we never take the same trail. With the mixture of Korean and English, I think an English map that is wrong and lots of un-marked forks in the trail, we managed to end up on what I will refer to as the "expert trail" or the "this is F---ing crazy" trail.

Here in Korea, switch-backs don't exist in the vocabulary, so everything is straight up! This was just the beginning of the elevation.

And here come the beginning of the treacherous parts....hang onto that tree Mike because one wrong step and you are tumbling down that mountain...oh, and watch for the patches of ICE!

Yes, those are chains and we had to almost hoist ourselves up along the side of the mountain...Scott was making his way up.

This is where I stopped. Probably only 20 minutes from the peak, after 3 1/2 hours of hiking, but this section looked scary.  Here are Mike and Scott hanging onto cables, scaling the cliffs...

GM folks reach the top...

Jen waits just below... not so bad of views from where I was.

Mark even found some time to meditate while on the mountain.

If you are visting Seoul, you can reach Dobongsan easily using the subway (line #1 or line #7). Mike has a great map to get you there. It is an hour ride from downtown Seoul and really is a beautiful place.  Leave plenty of time though, as our trek started about 9AM and ended about 3PM...slightly longer than expected. We did get some great news at the end...oh, we found the steps!! There are steps you can take instead of scaling need to find the steps.

I am looking forward to the gradual switchbacks of the States...

Dinner with Suk

Suk was here to visit last week. Following a great race along the Han River in the afternoon, we met up in Gangnam for dinner...and had a real "shovel" filled with delicious Korean Food.

That is a lot of food for three people...

North Korea attacks Yeonpyeong Island

On November 23, 2010, my Mom and I entered the Hyatt Club room on Jeju Island and saw that the news was showing a fire somewhere in Korea, but it was all in Korean. Asking the waiter, we were calmly told that North Korea had attacked Yeonpyeong, an South Korean Island, which lays only 10KM from North Korea.

For a geography lesson. Bottom picture shows how the Korean Peninsula is attached to China. You can see where Seoul is on this map as well. The top map is zoomed in and shows you where Yeonpyeong Island is. I think it is actually closer to North Korea than South Korea, and I guess ownership of this lsland has been under dispute for some time between the Koreas.

We were a little scared. My Mom and I were safely all the way to the South of South Korea on Jeju, but planned to return to Seoul within a day or so. There seemed to be a lot of tension here for a few days, but all has seemed to level out. I am told that US news still talks about the tension in Korea, but very little Korean news mentions it.

It is a strange feeling to not have any answers and no one to turn to. The US Embassy was saying "stay wher e you are" while the news was not so calm. You have no idea what the right decision is, so we waited it out. I will say that I understand why some people in New Orleans stayed when Katrina was is a very hard decision to make.

Nevertheless, it is something we don't want to face, but need to be prepared for. For all of our family and friends, GM has promised to take care of us. We have an emergency evacuation plan, not to the US, but to a neutral, close area like Singapore or Hong Kong. Sadly, they don't take pets, so we still have a decision to make regarding Maddy. The overall sentiment here is that things are not over between the is just a matter of time. So, the question that we continue to ask we send Maddy home for the remainder of our time here in Korea, or do we wait it out, enjoy having her here with us and take the chance of getting her on a flight if anything should happen.

Just to throw this in...Mike offered the solution of leaving her in the house and all of her food on the floor with water, until we returned! Let me know what you guys think about that...I think bad idea!!!

Our Visit to the DMZ...

My Mom and I too a USO tour to the DMZ. DMZ is demilitarized zone that is 4KM wide and runs the span of the entire Korean Peninsula. It seperates North Korea and South Korea (2KM on each) and was formed as a part of the armistice at the end of the Korean War.

Another fact for you history buffs...there was never actually a declaration that ended the Korean War, but an armistice that was signed for a "cease fire." This was in the mid 1950's, so for 60 years, the Korean Peninsula has been at a cease fire...well, not completely a cease fire on the North Korean's side, unfortunately.

Also, just to clarifiy because there seems to be a lot of confusion amongst Americans on who fought who in the Korean war. The American troops supported South Korea in their fight against North Korea. This was not America fighting South Korea. I believe that China and Russia helped to support North Korea, but someone that is better on Korean history can correct me if I am wrong on that.

Seoul is about 60km from the DMZ, so very close to North Korea. We took a bus up first to a military base, which was a Joint Security Area where there are UN forces, South Korean Forces and American military jointly protecting the peace on the Korean Peninsula.

All along the tour, we were escorted by a JSA- American Military guy. After the briefing at the base where we were asked to sign away our lives, we went onto the area that is right in the middle of the DMZ and is literally a small building that sits 1/2 on South Korea and 1/2 on North Korea. Honestly, the conference table in the middle, where negotiations are handled, sits 1/2 on South Korea and 1/2 on North Korea.

The blue building on the left is the one we went in where negotiations are held. We are on the South Korean side here. The grey buidling in the background belongs to North Korea and we could see North Korean guards standing out front of the building. We were warned not to make any verbal or non- verbal gestures torwards the North Koreans, as not to have any reason for provocation.

Inside the blue building. Woman across the table is in North Korea. I am in South Korea taking the picture...

These are South Korean military hand-selected for this post at the JSA. I was told they are extremely tough and have highest honors in Tae Kwon do. We were not allowed to get within 2 ft of them, as we were told they would take us out. They always stand at attention with fists clenched and have sunglasses to hide all emotion.

This is known as the Bride of No Return. At some point after the Korean War, there were some people that were given the choice to leave North Korean and return to South Korea, but if they did, they would never be allowed to return. 

And...for the tunnel. This is amazing. There are four tunnels that have been found over the past 40 years, where North Korean has dug tunnels underground into South Korea. This one was about 1 mile long. We were not allowed to take pictures of the tunnel inside, but we wore hard hats because the tunnels were not very tall and you easily hit your head. South Korea believes there are probably more of these tunnels and it is the plan of North Korea to feed troops into South Korea through these tunnels.

Back to safety in South Korea...bulgogi for lunch for mom and Bi-Bim Bap for me.

Dorasan Station is the last station of the South Korean railway line before going into North Korea. It was in use for a long time, until an incident a few years ago. Then North Korea refused to let any trains enter from South Korea anymore. They are hoping they can reconnect these lines soon.

The significance is this...South Korea is on the southern side of this peninsula connected to mainland China by North Korea, where they cannot access any other land unless they use a boat or fly. Trains are excellent means of commerce, etc and if they could connect the South Korean railroad to once again ride north through North Korea, they could then connect to the Chinese and Siberian railways and be able to reach mainland Europe by train. Currently, everything is by sea and air.

I think all South Koreans one day hope for the reunification of the Korean Peninsula. For the well-being and safety of Koreans, our American military based here in Korea, their family and all of us, I hope for peace and reunification of Korea as well.

If only for a history lesson, go to the DMZ. It really is amazing.

Since this 4km of land has been desolate for 60 years, it has become these are where they is a lot of natural vegitation and wildlife. I thought it was strange how the museum was talking about the DMZ as this wonderful semi-wildlife preserve. It is basically a scrimmage line...I know it is partly America's doing in creating this border after WWII to begin with, but I it is hard to think of the DMZ in a beautiful way.

My Mom arrives in Korea!!

On Saturday, November 13th, my Mom landed in Incheon airport after 23 hours of travelling from Philadelphia. She is our first visitor (besides work visits) and we had so much fun.

My Mom was here for 2 1/2 weeks and we did ALOT! So much to see here. If you would like more to even see videos...and you know my mom...she will burn you a DVD of hours of video she took while she was here as well. Yes, we were the tourists walking around Seoul with the video camera!!

Most important things first...Mom tries soju and Korean BBQ.

Mom rides the subway and the better way to get around Seoul.

We went to the markets and ate street food...

We walked...and walked...and walked...
This is the walk from my house down the hill to the bus or the subway. It is a hill and the first few times, it is tough. But after, walking it 2-3X/ day, my Mom was in shape. Maddy even jogs it now!

We saw the Seoul Tower at Night with beautiful views of Seoul, and road the cable cars

...and the Lantern Festival on Cheong-gye-Cheong River.

Visited Gyeongbokgong Palace...

We went to Jeju Island for a few days in the second week and got so lucky with the gorgeous weather. Jeju Island is a Korean Island off the southern coast of South Korea.  It is better known to Koreans as the "Hawaii of Korea" or in more traditional times, the honeymoon island. It is a volcanic island with beautiful beaches and beautiful mountains and some of Koreans unique
  • the Buddhist temples you can find in the mountains way above the oceans
  • the endless amounts of fresh fish served right on the cliffs where Korean women divers go down to catch them
  • Tangerines...galour!! It was tangerine season on Jeu
  • ...and much much more

View of Jungmun Beach from our hotel room at Hyatt

Brideg across Cheonjeon Falls, just a short walk from our hotel

Mom at Cheonjeon Falls

Mom gettin' in the water at Jungmun Beach

Tangerine Pickin'

Buddhist Temple. In one, we actually got to take our shoes off,
go in and sit in one of the servicess where the monks chant.

Well known for thier tea. O'Sulloc grows their tea in Jeju.
Their green tea ice cream is also delicious.

Merry Christmas from the Spirited Gardens

300-400 steps later...Buddhist Temple built into the side of the mountain.

Hotel kept leaving tangerines everyday...too many to eat.
And we completed our tour of Korea with a well-deserved pedicure...

I hopes this encourages encourages everyone to...please visit! We would love to show you around Seoul. It really is a wonderful city.

And Mom...please come back soon!