Tag Archives: munsan

Top 10 Reasons to Join a Korean Gym

22 Nov

I am really enjoying working out at the moment and am well on my way to succeeding in my 9 week challenge to get my bikini body back in time for my trip to Cambodia. Apart from cutting out all junk food, eating healthier meals, and attempting to drink less alcohol at weekends, my local gym has been my biggest friend over the last month. As Korean gyms are really different to your run-of-the-mill gym back home in Ireland, I thought I would write a quick blog post about the Top 10 Reasons to Join a Korean Gym! If you have any other suggestions, be sure to leave a comment.

10. Storage lockers for your toiletries

This is a little random, I know, but Korean gyms really are totally different to gyms back home.  Everyone gets a big locker for their gym bag and you can also get a small locker (if you choose) to store your toiletries in. Everyone at my gym has a cute little basket to store all their stuff in so after a good work out they stroll into the changing room, strip naked (this is also pretty different to home!!), take their toiletries basket with them into the open plan shower area (again, different from gyms back home) and continue to wash, shave, scrub, moisturize and every other cosmetic related activity you can think of. Some of these girls have more bottles of lotions in their gym basket than I have in my entire house! It’s a nice idea though, and save you having to haul your toiletries to the gym each day. Never agin will you get “the fear” that you have indeed forgotten your deodorant!

toiletries-storage

9. Unique group exercise classes like KPOP Dance

I recently signed up for GX classes in my gym thinking GX stood for Aerobics. Turns out GX stands for Group Exercise (DUH!) and one of the many GX classes (ABT, Zumba, Hot Yoga, Pilates, Aerobics etc) on offer is K-Pop Dance. My friend Tammy and I just signed up to this and are actually pretty excited for the classes to start next week. We are going to be the envy of every (teenage) girl in every Korean nightclub in no time! BAR BAR BAR Jumping, Jumping! :D

kpop

8. Catch up with your favorite TV shows

No longer can you say, “Oh I can’t go to the gym tonight, My favourite TV show is on at 8pm”. I think most gyms all over the world have TV’s attached to treadmills at this stage but in case your gym doesn’t, let me tell you all Korean gyms do! And they have up to 10 channels in ENGLISH including 3 movie channels. Granted you are probably not working out as hard as you should be if you strolling along ona treadmill watching NCIS or Mission Impossible 4, but it’s a good motivator to go to the gym when the TV on your treadmill is larger than the TV in your apartment! :D

ncis english tc show

7. They have machines like this….

I actually don’t know what this is. Put as I see every one else sitting on a bench on putting their legs on it after a long run on the treadmill, I have started doing the same. It’s seems to be a leg massager/leg fat jiggling machine. I have never seen one before so if anyone can inform me of what this machine ACTUALLY does, please leave a comment!

legs fat jiggling machine

6. They have FAT JIGGLING machines!

I think these bizarre machines disappeared from Western gyms in the 60’s or 70’s, when people realised that a machine that wiggles and giggles your fatty bits is, in fact, not helping you to lose weight. I’m not sure what Koreans use this machine for, but I think it’s more of a massager to loosen up your muscles than anything else. If you’re gym doesn’t have one of these ‘magic machines’ you’re going to the wrong gym!!

old fat figgling machine

5. Huge saunas where you can sleep

Korean saunas are not really like western saunas. First off, you not sit in a burning hot wooden cabin butt naked. Korean saunas are in fact much more relaxing and convenient. You go in wearing the matching gym clothes (provided by the gym) and lie on a clay floor covered in mats. The room is hot, but not so hot that’s it’s unbearable. Many people come in here after a hard work out and just fall asleep for half an hour. You could even bring a book in if you wanted, but for me its the perfect time to block out the world close my eyes and simply relax away from all sorts of technology. It’s more like a ‘relaxation room’ than a sauna but I absolutely love it.

sleeping suana gym

4. No more smelly gym clothes!

This could well be the BEST thing about Korean gyms. Say farewell to carrying home a gym bag full of sweaty, smelly clothes each day. Say farewell to those worries about not having anything to wear to the gym. Say farewell to spending money on clothes you would only ever wear while working out! Korean gyms provide gym clothes and towels for you every day and do all the washing and cleaning. Sure orange might not be your colour, and you may feel silly looking like EVERYONE else, but boy does it make life easy. All you need to do is bring your trainers/runners and a pair of clean socks and you are good to go. For me, this makes going to the gym 100 times less stressful as I never have to worry about having clean gym clothes!

work out clothes

3. You can play screen golf!

This one is a bit random, I know. But never in my life have I seen a gym where you can go for a workout, chill in a  sauna and THEN practice your swing! Many gyms in Korea have a screen golf facility where members can practices their swing in a small, enclosed and heated environment. I have not tried this yet, and probably never will if I’m honest, but it’s a bonus for all you golfers out there!

screen golf korea

2. Koreans come in ALL shapes and sizes

Yup, it’s TRUE! Not all Koreans are the small, skinny beauties you imagined. Over the last month I have discovered that Korean women really do come in ALL shapes and sizes. This can be a real confidence boost for us foreigners who often feel like giant sumo wrestlers next to cute Korean girls. There is so much negative media regarding cosmetic surgery and the constant aim for perfection..which in their eyes involves calf reductions, butt lifts and leg extensions. It is so uplifting to see Koreans who love their bodeis and working hard to look and feel good the “old fashioned way”. In my gym, Strong is the new skinny and I like it a lot!

shapes and sizes

1. Friendly Trainers 

In my (somewhat limited) experience the trainers in Korean gyms are super friendly and motivating. While they may not speak much English they know the basics, and are always willing to help you figure out how to use those awkward weight lifting machines, encourage you to run faster on the treadmill or just chat with you about why you are in Korea, if you are liking life here and if you know anyone else who might want to join their lovely gym!

personal trainer

Small Town, Big Lights

12 Sep

It’s hard to believe that I have been back in South Korea for nearly 2 months now. As the, much overused, saying goes…time flies when you’re having fun! As it’s my second time here, all the things that were new, surprising and exciting the first time round aren’t quite as new or exciting this time.

The last few weeks I have had to stop myself on many occasions, pinch myself, and be reminded that YES, you are living in South Korea. I have to remind myself that the town I’m living in, Munsan, is unlike any town you would find in Ireland or anywhere in Europe for that matter! It may be just 10km from the border with North Korea and but it’s also absolutely jam-packed with flashing signs advertising everything from singing rooms, to PC rooms, hair salons, beer and chicken bars (called ‘Hofs’) and every type or private teaching academy you can imagine.

I spent some time last week wandering down the streets taking photos of all the shop fronts, just to remind myself how different this place really is from back home. Just because I am may think what the places I see everyday are boring or ‘old news’, doesn’t mean my family back home or people reading my blog would not be interested to ‘take a peel’ so to speak.

Do you live in a big city with neon signs and flashing lights over every shop door or are you, like me, from a place that is far, far removed from this alternate Universe??!

korean drining bar

korean street signs neon

korean pc bang internet cafe

korean street signs

noraebang korean karaoke

korean street signs

20130829_001147

20130829_000907

The Scariest Place on Earth

8 Apr

With all the recent talk about North and South Korea, I thought I would share this post with you. This time 2 years ago I was living and working in Munsan, a town of about 100,000 only a few KMs from the border with North Korea. Here’s what I had to say about it at the time….

Sometimes as I lie in my new bed, in my new room in a brand spanking new apartment block, it’s easy to forget where I am. From the minute You step outside the door of your 21 storey apartment complex you are gently reminded EXACTLY where in the world I am. I have become so used to seeing soldiers everywhere that I have simply forgotten to write about them in my blog.

I am living in Munsan, which is a city only 20 minutes from the boarder with North Korea. Munsan is the last stop on the train line. If you go any further, and as far as I know only freight trains do, you will find yourself in the depths of a ravaged nation. A country that has been totally cut off from the outside world, has a secretive government and a nation that has been struck down with famine. Today, due to the government’s secretive nature and its reluctance to allow in foreigners, North Korea is considered the world’s most isolated country.

ers on the Train line that operates from the North Korean city of Kaesong, to Munsan, in the South.

ers on the Train line that operates from the North Korean city of Kaesong, to Munsan, in the South.

Soldiers are everywhere in Korea. At the moment I am sitting in a PC Bang, which is like an internet cafe except I’m the only person actually online, everyone else is playing computer games. I am also the only girl and the only perosn not in camoflage uniform! There are probably about 20 soldiers in here, as always.

When I walk down the street in Munsan, you see soldiers everywhere, just going about everyday life. As we are so near to North Korea, there are lots of high fences with barbed wire and look out posts, a lot of which it must be said are no longer in use. But the soldiers remain.

A South Korean Soldier checking the barrier, just north of Munsan.

A South Korean Soldier checking the barrier, just north of Munsan.

Of the three tunnels between North and South that were discovered in the last 30 years, one of them, the third infiltration tunnel, ends only 12km North of Munsan. I’m hoping to do a tour of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) next weekend, where you actually get to go down into the tunnels and experience it first hand. The tunnel is about 1,600 m long and about 150 m below ground. It is apparently designed for a surprise attack on Seoul from North Korea, and can easily accommodate 30,000 men per hour along with light weapons!! Eeeep.

Don’t ask me how or why exactly, but on Friday the other Munsan teachers and I ended up in a place Bill Clinton famously called, “The scariest place on Earth.” Anyone who knows me and knows my keen thirst for adventure will know I do not turn down offers to go to crazy places, in fact I LOOK for them.

Third infiltration tunnel, DMZ near Munsan, South Korea

Third infiltration tunnel, DMZ near Munsan, South Korea

We had befriended some US military soldiers who happened to live in the JSA (Joint Security Area) situated about 15 minutes north of Munsan and about 5 minutes south of North Korea!! The JSA is the only area in the country controlled by both North and South Korea. It is known to be one of the most isolated places on the planet, with stories of shootings and kidnappings rife. One of my friends said that she heard a story recently of someone’s grandmother who had been kidnapped for 5 days ‘just for fun’. This is no place to mess around in.

So off we went on our little adventure to what was once one of the most terrifying war zones on earth and a place still covered in secrecy and armed forces. The journey there was weird enough. We first had to cross the ‘Bridge of No Return’, a bridge lined with explosives so if any attacks or intrusions were to take place, the military could delay their progress by blowing up the only entrance into South Korea. We had to pass many checkpoints and often show our I.D cards.

We were given a mini tour of the army base, were bought a free breakfast and as the tour buses passed by (with each passenger paying 150 bucks each!) they waved at us as if we were animals in a Zoo or celebrities..it was very bizarre and we felt very out of place. We were been watched at all times, and that we weren’t allowed to take any pictures (Ooops!). It is a weird place, surrounded by mountains and green fields, and one of the first places I have witnessed birdsong and wildlife amoungst the army bunkers and look-out points.

Soldier in the JSA, North / South Korea

Soldier in the JSA, North / South Korea

On exiting one building we heard gun shots and looked at each other with frightened glances. Thank-fully we were told it was just the shooting range/practice range, but it was still somewhat scary. The guys flicked laminated pieces of paper at us, their “licences to kill’. These were no joke, they were real life licences to kill. They also showed us their guns, unloaded of course. A serious reminder of where we were.

We got to observe the army first hand, the rank system, how ‘higher ranks’ could smoke the junior privates and how their was a huge amount of respect to be found. It was quite a culture shock to us carefree teachers I must say and I was happy to head back to Munsan and my life as a teacher!

Mystery Train Trip

19 Apr

Mystery train trip rules…PLAN NOTHING and KEEP TURNING LEFT.

Friday night we got the train from Paju to Seoul station and then went in search of a Motel. In order to do this we decided we would turn left 3 times then take 1 right turn. Following these rules, and after an encounter with a few bums who succeeded in stealing my beer, the first motel we showed up at was WAY over priced so we went next door instead where we found a pension style room for the 5 of us.

5 girls, one room, no beds. It was a bit like a slumber party, filled with goodies courtesy of Shanua and her parcel from Ireland…yummy toffee pops, grape juice and jelly babies! Still hungry after our snacks we went in search dinner and beer. 2 more lefts and a right and we found ourselves at a korean traditional restaurant (ahem ahem) a beer Hof. Aka a joint selling nothing but Beer and Chicken, any mans dream or in the case of 5 girls, any girls dream!

Girl chats...

Ready for our Mystery Trip at Seoul Station

Up and ready to hit the road by 6.30am we headed back over to Seoul station. With a budget of 40,000 won we were all set to go just about anywhere. The first train turned out to be heading to Pohang on the East coast..but at 5 hours there and back it was a little far for our little weekend trip. Our next option was to a little city on the west coast called Gunsan. With a journey time of 3 hours and price of 28,000 return it was PERFECT.

Off to a good start, once on the train all our dream came true. Thats right, there was a mini “travel-sized” Karaoke room on board. 3 hours of chats, laughing and bad singing later and we arrived in the small seaside town (ahem shipping city) of..GUNSAN!

Our final destination...GUNSAN STATION

My own personal army tank

After getting the us to the city centre we found ourselves at a marine themed amusement park, where we had bundles of fun exploring old army tanks, navy ships, helicopters even firing off (pretend) rounds of artillery!

After a bit more exploring we made our way to Eunpa Tourist park where we came across the Cherry Blossom Festival, a beautiful lake, and pure sunshine bliss. After  delicious lunch and beers by the lakeside we splashed out and hired a speed boat to whizz around the lake! Next we spent about 2 hours walking around the park with some beer breaks in between!

The beautiful Eunpa Resort, Gunsan

Heart by the Park

 AFter hours of walking and somewhat of  a mini disaster trying to find accommodation (SERIOUSLY Gunsan, where oh where are all you hostels and motels?!) we finally found ourselves in the red light district. This was an Amsterdam eat your heart out, stripper clubs the size of castles lining the streets alongside dimly lit, dodgy looking “love” motels.

Following our rules, we came across our first motel which looked like a white washed, fantastical hotel. Sadly, it was still under construction. The next stop was pretty entertaining to say the least. We managed to walk into the dirtiest, most dingy looking accommodation you could find.The woman spoke no English and kept misunderstanding what we wanted. She spoke Korean and broken english. We spoke English and broken Korean!

Us, ” We want 1 room for 5 PEOPLE. Han bang..ONE ROOM.

Crazy old drugged up receptionist, “5 girls, ONE MAN?!”

Us, “NO!! No man, 1 room, 5 girls”

Crazy old drugged up woman, “One room, 5 girls, ONE MAN?”

Us, ” No,NO, NO. We have no man, Look NO MAN! Just girls!”

Crazy old woman looked confused and horrified.

Us…Never mind…we’re leaving!

We finally found a decent motel, in budget and with beds! Hoorah! A quick dinner or pizza and a surprise birthday party in the room for Shauna and we fell into bed wrecked from all our adventures!

The beautiful Gunsan Lighthouse

Clowning around

We broke all our “Mystery Trip” rules and planned to head to the islands on Sunday. I guess breaking rules comes with consequences as it was a bit of a (yet another) mini disaster. Our taxi totally scammed us, we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere, Tourist “information” had FECK ALL “information” and we never did make it out to the islands! Despite that we did fins 2 cool light houses so had fun basking in the sunshine and posing for some random photos much to the curiosity or random passers by.

All in all our little trip to Gunsan was awesome. Accommodation, food and transport ranged from Unbelievable (ahh Karaoke train, too cool!) to Unbelievably awful…Ox bone stew for lunch..NEVER AGAIN. But what really made it was the people, so thanks Jouelle, Shauna, Fran and Pam for a fantabulous weekend!

Passport to Death; Dangers of travelling

16 Jan

As a pretty seasoned traveller I feel I have my fair share of travel  horror stories. At the time they scare the hell out of me me and shake me back to reality, a harsh reminder that the world isn’t one big carefree, fluffy cloud to bounce around.

With every adventure comes a real life danger, varying from country to country, from minor theft, car accidents, hi-jacking, kid-napping and even murder. However Although I try not to let these things stop me from living my life the way I want to, it should be said that one should at least beware of possible dangers when travelling.

I have been living in Korea for 5 months now and all anyone outside Korea ever asks is “How dangerous is life there? Are you scared of North Korea attacking?” The answer is always the same…”No”. I am more worried about the rising price of beef due to foot and mouth disease or dying in a nasty bus crash thanks to the crazy Korean bus drivers. North Korea is the least of my worries.

Last night I had a nasty experience with a Korean taxi driver. After agreeing on a fair price he then took our money, tried to drop us off in a totally different city then kept grabbing my arm and not letting me out of the taxi. It was a truly horrific experience. One of the things that got me the most was even if the police were called no doubt they would not have listened to me. I have heard horror stories of the law in Korea always taking the side of the locals over the foreigners irregardless of the truth.

I think its fair to say that every country has its problems, and often you will fins yourself in trouble in a place you least expect it. I remember getting robbed while on holiday in Cape Town when I was just 18 and was absolutely devastated. They cleared out my bank account on the FIRST day of my 6 week trip up the coast. Going through the trauma alone was even worse.

While travelling in Ethiopia 3 years ago we stayed in a hotel that ended up being one of the most disgusting, dirty and down right dangerous brothels I have ever encountered (not that encounter much brothels!!) There were used needles everywhere, the sheets were dirty, I found a rat trying to eat its way into my bag and there were used condoms strewn on the floor.

I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream but as everywhere in the city was booked up it was a last resort. I spent the night curled up in a towel shivering. Men would open my window and try to climb in while others shouted “nice body shape, how muuuch?”. It was an absolute nightmare!!

On the same trip I came down with a nasty bout of dengue fever while trekking in the mountains…becoming ill with an illness you are totally clueless to can be an absolute disaster while abroad. Always bring a first aid kit and seek medical attention as soon as possible. Due to my location the only person I could rely on was a local witch doctor who cured me with natural remedies from plants grown in the Bale mountains.

From dodgy accommodation to dodgy taxi drivers, bus crashes, theft and everything in between travelling is no walk in the park. I guess this post is to ask people to be street wise, walk away from trouble and try to stay in groups late at night. As a female, solo traveller I know there are lots of dangers but I think I am slowly learning how best to avoid them too.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

30 Dec

Murphys Law: Pray for it to snow on Christmas every year since you were a child and it will never snow. Leave the country for 2 winters in a row, and it will snow more than it did it the previous 2 decades!! Typical!!

Ever since winter starting to creep up on us in Korea, the temperature slowly dropping further and further below 0’c I’ve been praying and praying for snow. I even had a bet on with a friend over whether it would snow here on Christmas day, a bet which I lost miserable. But alas, fear not, my years of hoping and praying were not a complete waste of time for alas my winter wonderland has appeared.

Thanks to the snow I have had to queue for nearly an hour to get a taxi to work resulting in me being VERY late for work two days in a row. I have fallen on my ass while legging it down the road trying to make it to work on time, but ending up late, yet again. I have got frost bite on my arse from making too many snow angels and icy hands thanks to attempting to cycle home in the snow without gloves. Despite all these woes…I STILL LOVE SNOW!!

 

Spent all my money on whiskey and beer

9 Dec

 When I go to a country it is not about how many museums I have visited, how many temples I’ve stayed in or how many photos I have taken…it is about how much of my time I can admit to being truly happy. I can honestly say that the last 3 months in Korea has been a chain of one hilarious moment after the other. Great memories with great people.

Cheers!

 

So, in the sprirt of all things liquid, and after just reading a list of the top 10 westerner bars in Korea, as composed by 10 Magazine and listed here on a fellow teachers blog, I have decided to compose a list of my favourite drinking establishments in the land of morning calm. (Silly to call it that really as my mornings are rarely what one wold call calm!!) Most of the bars mentioned are in Itaewon and are…wait for it… Irish pubs. Normally, I would agree with this list as I absolutely love Irish bars. In Korea however, there so many bars WAY cooler than those fake leprechaun magnets that no Irish bar makes it on to my list. Now there’s a first.

Rooftop Bar in Geumchon… The location for our weekly social (to be read drinking session). About 20-30 waygooks gather at this rooftop beer garden every Wednesday for singing, drinking and general banter.

Kats Bar… Our local bar in Munsan and also a favourite among DMZ soldiers. It’s a tiny little place but the cocktails are killer and the tunes are pumping, thanks to our personal playlists!

GoGos… Home to cheesy music, cheap Vodka sets and table dancing, one of the most fun spots in Hongdae.


FFs... Directly below GoGos you will find me here, without fail, from about 4am onwards every Saturday night. They have cheap drinks,a  free drink voucher on arrival and a stage to dance on. Bring it on!

Monkey Beach Club…I’ve only been here once but it was totally awesome. They sell drinks, thai style, in BUCKETS. The bar is lined with tables to dance on and everyone is covered in neon glow sticks. Full moon party anyone?

Oi Bar... Awesome bar in Hongdae with all these private cave like booths and little steams meandering their way around the dance floor and the shell-like DJ podium. Super cool…and 6,000 won cocktails!

Soju Time!

 

 

Ho Bar… Despite many bad reviews, music that is often way too loud to be bearable, I cant not like a bar that stays open until 8am in the morning. You can get a vodka for about 3,000 won too, which is cheap as chips. Plus there is not just one Ho bar…there are TEN Ho bars!! Jackpot.

Intos… This one is in Ilsan and is a seriously awesome international sports bar. They have darts, pool, foosball, air hockey and an array of games such a scrabble and jenga. We spent one whole weekend in this bar, by accident, and the super friendly owners let us take over the music system which ended up in endless Irish songs including RIVERDANCE been blasted out!

Zan Bar… Also in Ilsan, this bar had a pretty crappy atmosphere but they have, wait for it, Tequila shots for 1500 won, i.e FOR NOTHING. Cant go wrong with 1 euro tequila, can you?

Tequila shots

 

I’m sure I will think of more but that is it for now!!

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