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Singapore to Seoul with Vietnam Airlines

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Vietnam Airlines was fine. Decent service, decent food, cheapest flight available (paid about SGD600 for a December ticket).. But worst transit experience ever. The airport at Ho Chi Minh City was probably the worst I've ever been to. Unclear directions/signage, messy layout - everything you fear about when taking a transit flight. At least the transfer counter staff was helpful. Don't think I will ever use Vietnam airlines again unless it is really REALLY cheap. 

My two meals from SIN to SGN, then SGN to ICN. 

Anyway, I made it to Korea safely! Here are some pictures of my first few days in Korea:

At the end of May, we visited a friend in Tongyeong (통영시) for...

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Enjoying the turtle ships

Reenactment of a battle on a turtle ship

Reenactment of a battle on a turtle ship

Concert Hall

Outside the Concert Hall

Outside the Concert Hall

Having an Italian meal at Trattoria del Arte, located on the second floor of the Tongyeong Concert Hall.

Taking the cable car up Mireuk Mountain (미륵산) at Hallyeosudo (한려수도조망 케이블카).

Taking the cable car up Mireuk Mountain (미륵산) at Hallyeosudo (한려수도조망 케이블카).

On Mireuk Mountain (미륵산)

At the end of May, we visited a friend in Tongyeong (통영시) for the weekend. It’s a two-hour bus ride from the Busan West Intercity Bus Terminal in Sasang (9,800₩). Tongyeong isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis with a population of about 140,000 people, but it’s got its gems, as well as being a great jumping-off point for adventures in other cities. 

I’ve compiled a list of things to do, in no particular order.

1. Take a 40-minute ferry ride to Bijindo for 6,700₩. Be mindful of the ferry and bus times out of there. Ferries leave from Tongyeong only three times a day (at 7:00, 11:00 and 2:00 p.m.).

2. Try the regional foods just once. There’s gulbbang (빵), which is a bread-like dessert that has red bean paste inside it and is covered in honey, For something more savory, you could try chungmu gimbab (충무김밥), a plan Korean snack of simple seaweed and rice. I didn’t appreciated either edible, but I didn’t want to leave the city without trying food that originated there.

3. Korean naval commander, Admiral Yi Sun-Sin is well respected in the city. See monuments and turtle ships around the city. Check out the beautiful harbors and try to decipher the city’s self-given nickname of “The Naples of Korea.”

4. Have an Italian meal at Trattoria del Arte, located on the second floor of the Tongyeong Concert Hall. The view at sunset really is beautiful and, even though it’s expensive, I enjoyed the food. (Also, where is foreign food not expensive in Korea?)

5. Take the cable car up Mireuk Mountain (미륵산) at Hallyeosudo (한려수도조망 케이블카).

A taxi ride from one end of the city to the other probably isn’t more than 10,000₩, so we shared taxis to each location. I’ve heard that it’s worth traveling to the city for the International Music Festival in late-March and The Great Battle of Hansan Festival (통영 한산대첩축제) in mid-August.

About the girl

Hi, I'm Stacy. I am from Portland, Oregon, USA, and am currently living and teaching ESL in Busan, South Korea. Busy getting into lots of adventures, challenging myself, and loving people. Something more than an ethereal will-o-wisp.

Thank you so much for visiting and reading.

Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, LastfmFlickr, and FacebookAsk me anything


Blatant Pimping: The Worst Motorcycle in Laos

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We usually don’t demean the fair cyber pages of this blog by something as base as promotion, but screw it, I’ll shed my secret identity and let the cat out of the bag: I, Chris Tharp, aka “Mr. Motgol,” got a new book out YOU should stop what you’re doing right now, click on the link below, and buy it. Hey, it can’t be that bad. After all, these guys had some nice things to say about it:

“In The Worst Motorcycle in Laos, Tharp takes us on a wild ride from the neon streets of Tokyo to the dirt tracks of Indochina. The essays are insightful, humorous and unflinching. A great read for the active and armchair traveler alike.”

- Michael Breen, author of The Koreans

“Tharp’s done it again. He’s got a knack for finding himself in, shall we say, interesting places and situations – from fake flowers and monks to persistent touts, these are the stories few can experience for themselves. Make no mistake, Tharp makes life happen on his own terms.”

- Chris Backe, travel blogger from One Weird Globe 

The Worst Motorcycle in Laos is a wild and thoughtful ride through the backwaters of Asia. Tharp writes about his travels with a refreshing, humble honesty, unafraid of exploring the gritty and the grimy, the seedy and the sublime.  Witty, poignant and at times even disturbing, this is a great read for the seasoned journeyer and those who wish to enjoy from comfort of home.”

- Brandon W. Jones, author of All Woman in Springtime

You can get the ebook or paper version at Amazon and other big booksellers. Thanks!





Now and Then: Seokguram Hermitage

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Seokguram Hermitage in 1930.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Alongside Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Hermitage first began construction in 742 A.D. by then Prime Minister, Kim Daeseong. The hermitage was completed in 774 A.D. not long after Kim Daeseong’s death. Originally, the temple was called Seokbulsa Temple, which means “Stone Buddha Temple,” in English. The reason that the hermitage was first constructed, at least according to legend, was to pacify Kim’s parents in his previous life.

The grotto at Seokguram Hermitage houses the most beautiful Buddhist sculpture in all of Korea. Underneath the nearly seven metre tall man-made dome, and measuring nearly 3.5 metres in height, is the serenely smiling Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. Seokgamoni-bul looks out towards the East Sea and he is surrounded on all sides by equally beautiful sculptures of the Four Heavenly Kings, the Nahan, and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

Throughout its history, the hermitage largely remained untouched for the first one thousand years of its design. It wasn’t until the 18th century that this changed under Confucian religious rule in 1703 and 1758. It was left seriously damaged before colonial Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945. The hermitage was first discovered by a visiting Japanese postman. From its discovery, Seokguram Hermitage underwent three rounds of full-scale restoration. The first of these restorations started in 1913 and lasted until 1915. Under the efforts of leading Japanese architect and scholar, Tei Sekino, Seokguram Hermitage was completely disassembled and reassembled. It was at this time that a one metre thick outer concrete dome was formed around the artificial grotto. With the addition of 200 stones, the original grotto was irrevocably damaged.

Compounding these mistakes was the renovation that took place in 1917. Because of the moisture forming in the grotto from the concrete shell formerly installed by the Japanese, moss was collecting inside the grotto. So to alleviate this problem, the Japanese installed a drainage pipe. Additionally, the concrete was covered in lime mortar and clay.

And finally, from 1920 to 1923, a third round of renovations was conducted. This time, once more, the renovations were conducted to lessen the mistakes from the first time around. This time, waterproof asphalt was added on top of the formerly applied concrete. However, this still didn’t help the moisture problem inside the grotto.

Through their efforts, and after being liberated from the Japanese, Korean engineers attempted to fix the moisture problem inside the grotto. It wasn’t until 1966, with the installation of an air handling unit, that the problem was finally fixed. And in 1971, the glass partition was installed to protect the sculptures and statues from any damage that visitors might do to the historical grounds, as well as control the moisture level inside the grotto.

Seokguram Hermitage is registered as National Treasure #24; and with Bulguksa Temple, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The path that formerly led up to the grotto in 1912.


A look at the grotto before Japanese repairs.


A better look at the extensive damage and neglect.

Seokguram 10

Japanese restoration.


The dismantling of the grotto.

Seokguram 11

Seokguram Hermitage stripped down.


The landscaping at Seokguram Hermitage after Japanese restoration efforts.


Some Japanese posing in front of the grotto during its occupation of Korea.


How the grotto looks today.


A look inside the grotto at the amazing statue of the Buddha in 2014.

The post Now and Then: Seokguram Hermitage appeared first on Dale's Korean Temple Adventures.

Jen vs Cancer

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One of Busan's Awesomest could use some support in kicking cancer's ass!

From Jen

Ok. So here it is. I have cancer (metastatic melanoma, late stage). I am leaving Korea because my treatment options are more varied back home. I will be flying out of Busan on December 17th, and will likely not have time to say goodbye to some people here that I love dearly. I've been dreading this post because I hate the idea of putting my hand out... but I have no idea what kind of coverage I will be able to qualify for in the US, and don't know what will and what won't be covered. Please read and share the following link
. Also, please forgive me for not responding to messages in the next week or two, I am about to pack up/wrap up 8 years of my life in a week. Much love and many thanks.

From Facebook shares...

Jen is an incredible woman and the backbone of the Busan expat community I was so fortunate to be apart of. Though I never knew her personally, she made many Wednesday nights at Ol' 55 memorable for all of us. In the spirit of the season and expat camaraderie- it is incumbent upon us all to help her in her moment of need. Jen- I speak on behalf of all those your exuberant strength impacted. We are here for you!    - Casey

My friend, Jen Sotham, is not one who enjoys asking for help or charity. After eight years of living and teaching in South Korea, she's going home to New York now because her on-and-off fight with cancer has gotten very serious. Please SHARE this link, and DONATE to help her fight cancer! We love her very much and pray for her ongoing journey in life. - Stacy

Jen is an amazing friend and has supported and helped me and many others in the past. With a heart as big as hers it is for her to do it. I hope your hearts are just as big and can send her some love and support, even if its just a tiny bit  - Greg

I had the pleasure of getting to know Jen while working on The Vagina Monologues together in Busan. I was and continue to be inspired by her generous and caring nature and her love for the community she's called home for the last 8 years. She is such a giving and positive person and is in need of some generosity now. Please send her some positive thoughts and consider donating and sharing this page.    - Katie

Jen is a dear friend, poet, musician, teacher, filmmaker who has always reached out to others in times of need. It's our turn to support her & her fight.  - K

One of my dearest friends is about to begin a battle for her life. While it has been something that she has been dealing with on and off for a while, things have gotten very real this time. Please help this wonderful, inspirational woman and artist and her family through this difficult time. Follow the link if you can contribute to her fight.  - Mike


Gay Activists Occupy City Hall: Day 3

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In response to the postponement of a human rights charter that would have protected sexual minorities from discrimination, gay activists are currently in their third day of occupying City Hall.

The charter was originally planned to be signed on the 10th of December (to coincide with Human Rights Day) but was postponed due to a vocal Christian right. A group of 20 LGBTQI groups have now occupied the lobby of the Seoul Metropolitan government calling for Mayor Park Won-soon to meet with activists and push forward with the human rights charter.

Mayor Park stated on the 4th that although he may support a non-discrimination clause, as a representative of the city he "can't support homosexuality. Not surprisingly, people are upset.

In the following video, you can see activists trying to meet with Mayor Park at the end of his work day, but it is still unknown if he will agree to a meeting.

Although I have heard that the activists may be forcefully be removed today, as far as I know they are still in City Hall. Hopefully, the occupation can continue until everyone in Korea is talking about it. Two days until Human Rights Day. Mayor Park, get your act together!

The Rainbow Action Group has issued a Call for Action: show your support by sending messages to Mayor Park (Twitter @wonsoonpark, Email, Fax +82-2-2133-0797(Seoul Human Rights Center)) urging him to proclaim the charter.

Beomosa Temple Stay

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When I got asked to shoot Beomosa Temple for an upcoming article in Seoul Magazine, I was really excited. Mostly because I love Beomosa and the other reason was that I really wanted to see what goes on at a temple stay which was the focus of the article. Temple stay programs are a unique way to experience temple life. However, most of the people that I asked about these programs either hated them or did them as a one off thing.


I think mostly it is because temple life is not as laid back and relaxing as it appears to be. Early mornings and hikes are a part of the program and not to mention the 108 bows that are performed during the prayer bead making part. When I went, I quite enjoyed the time and was really thinking about coming back. For 70,000 won for 2 days, it is not too bad.


Getting to photograph the monks and the temple with their permission was something that I really enjoyed. I have shot this temple a lot since I started working BUFS down the road. I normally tread lightly and try not to really be noticed. This was a chance to really see what goes on and not get yelled at. Overall, I found the people who run the temple stay program and the head monks to really be kind and quite open about having a photographer around.


The best part of the evening was when the drumming started. It was an incredible experience and one that I think that everyone would enjoy. The second great thing was being about to shoot inside the main hall. Normally these places are off-limits to photography but that evening they opened up the doors for me. I felt honoured to be given the privilege to photograph inside this sacred and old temple hall.


The evening ended for me as the guests of the temple stay prepared to make their prayer beads. A group of German tourists joined the group at that point. They were not too thrilled to have me photographing them and I took the hint when a large German lady shouted at me. I thanked the temple stay organizers for letting me get some shots and then went down the road for a much needed coffee at my favourite cafe Route Coffee.


My 2014 Hate-Mail of the Year: ‘Kelly, You’re Wrong; North Korea’s Awesome!’

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North Korea 2012 279-Kelly-Viao

For my 2013 hate-mail of the year award, go here.

So I get a lot of weird email and comments because of my blog, or in the comment sections of my op-eds for the Diplomat. A lot of it is fairly ridiculous (‘you want the terrorists to win!’) or ad hominem (‘you’re a tool of the IMF; you’re a Muslim’), but occasionally I get pretty unique stuff like this letter below. (The image above is a personal picture of a plaque on the Juche Tower in Pyongyang. Perhaps the correspondent comes from this study group.)


“Dear Robert Kelly,

I read your column in The Korea Times with great interest and would like to share my thoughts with you.

You may think that my opinion is weird and crazy from a point of American.

Most Americans think that North. Korea is vitally harmful, threatening the world peace by shooting the missile toward America.

America had fought with North. Korea at 1950 and kept a hostile relations with it since then.

I think North. Korea is a great country, because it has shown sophisticated diplomacy against a big country.

I claim that North. Korea is less westernized and less materialized. It keeps a strong defense for people.

I also argue that North. Korea has not tarnish tradition and nature unlike South. Korea.

I wonder that you can say that all the people in South. Korea and U.S. are happy, just because they live in a democratic and capitalistic society.

I also ask you that most people in North.Korea is unhappy, because their government infringes on its citizen’s individual freedom severely.

I am sure some people may have been successful in adapting to a totalitarian society and they may have made a fortune and achieved a solid social position.

If the U.S. is a perfect society for living, I wonder why so many American came to Korea to get a job.

I have met many Americans who blamed their country and they don’t want to go back to their country.

Some American has settled down in Korea, marrying a Korean woman.

Deciding which government is better is subjective.

In a nutshell, North. Korea never collapses.

Best regards,


Filed under: Korea (North), Media

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University


A Korean Winter Mystery

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The past couple of weeks have seen the temperature drastically drop to below freezing- winter, along with a hefty lot of snow, has officially arrived. As such, the coats are back out, everyone is dressed up in their warming, winter gear. But there is one big difference between Koreans and foreigners and how they wear their winter clothes, and it’s something which puzzled me last year and has remained a mystery until now: why do (99% 0f) Koreans wear their coats inside?

It might seem like a trivial matter, but it really confuses me. It’s freezing in the corridors of most buildings, sure, but once you’re inside a warm room, why not remove your huge jacket? In our school, the corridors are usually colder than outside, but the classrooms (mine especially as I hate the cold with a passion) are nice and toasty warm. So why don’t my students take off their coat? I own a Korean winter coat, and I know how deliciously warm they are. In fact, I can get too warm when I’m outside and wearing mine. So how are the kids not sweltering? (And it’s by no means just the kids which follow this tradition- most adults also remain attached to their coat throughout the day too).

There’s a few reasons why I find it strange:

1) The obvious- they must be boiling hot.

2) They have nothing to put on when they go outside into the freezing cold- most people would at this point put on a coat to make them warmer, and so ready to face the cold outside, but if you’re already wearing one, you have no layers to add to make you warmer when you venture into lower temperatures. 

3)Quite simply, coats are for wearing outside. Especially the heavy-duty coats which most Koreans wear in winter. They’re designed for freezing temperatures, not a heated classroom. It can’t be healthy…

Believe me, I’ve asked many of my students why they insist on wearing their coats- especially when they complain of being ‘too hot’ or turning off the heating. (Umm, maybe you’re hot because you’re wearing a quilted, fur-lined puffer jacket? On top of your thick winter blazer, no less.) I never get a proper answer. In fact, the most common answer is ‘My mum thinks I’ll lose it if I take it off’. Well, that’s not a great reason. Firstly, you’d have to be pretty forgetful (and blind) to leave a huge, bright red coat on your chair without noticing, and secondly, if you have that attitude, you’d never put anything down for fear of losing it. Imagine never being allowed to let go of your bag, or purse, or never taking off your gloves in case you forget to pick them up.

Apart from that, I never really hear a real reason why people wear their coats inside. It remains a mystery to me. So please, if you can enlighten me, if there is some myth or superstition about why you shouldn’t take your coat off inside, let me know. Or else I’ll remain clueless for another winter…

Filed under: Korea


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