Saturday, January 16, 2016

Korea and Hong Kong!

Guinsa Temple Roofs.
(Photo by Ken Eckert.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

We were still in Madagascar when my travel partner,  George, was already contemplating our next trip together.

We met up a while back and bounced around a few ideas and settled on Chile.  I had always wanted to do a driving tour around the country but after giving it some serious consideration, I decided to tell George that Chile was out.  For one thing, he can only take a few days off work but more importantly, Chile is a place Bro wants to travel to so I want to save it for him.  George fully understood so we bounced around a few more places.  Korea came to mind and it's a place I've never been to so I said yes.  I have to admit, Korea has never been on my list of places to travel to.  I think it's because it's been overshadowed by its larger siblings - China and Japan, both of which I have been to before and enjoyed my visits.


A few days later, I was doing a bit of research on things to see, places to go in Korea and at first, my  heart sank a bit because everything I read seemed to be so touristy and the places to go to seemed to boil down to barely a handful.  Perhaps I was right about the country being overshadowed by China and Japan.  But, I refused to give up so I read more and then, I hit pay dirt.  I stumbled on a forum where there was chat about a renting a car and driving around to explore the country.  I am more about getting of the beaten path to explore a country's nooks and crannies, so to speak, so this hit the perfect note for me.  I quickly ran the idea by George and he was all up for it so we will be going around Korea in a car and I couldn't be more thrilled.  I love the challenge of finding small towns and mapping out a driving route!  The main island seems very easy to drive around - there are some challenges with using a Korean GPS.  Apparently, you enter in a phone number versus an address but it doesn't seem like anything insurmountable.  Also, many of the main highways are toll roads and they do have a payment device that you can rent from the car rental agency so you can just zip through.  We'll have to look into all of this.

Korean street food.
(Photo by LWY.  Licensed under CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.)
At this point, I must confess that I know virtually nothing about Korea.  It's one of those places, I've heard a lot about but if I think hard, I realize I know virtually nothing the country.  I've eaten Korean food and I shop on a weekly basis at a local Korean supermarket so I have some inkling about the food.  I know they have some amazing street food.  My cousin, Yim, went to Korea last year and she took photos of the foods she encountered.  They looked so appetizing!

After reading up about temple stays, I know Korea is the land of temples - some 900 scattered throughout the country.  Ok.  That's it.  It is truly very sad that that is all I know.  I think it's about time  I got to know this ancient country better!

Unfortunately, our time in Korea is short because of George's leave restrictions but I hate to spend all the money to fly over to Korea for just eight days.  At first, I contemplated extending my stay in Korea.  I started looking into farm stays and temple stays - two things that are very common in Korea.  There's even a website that lists all the temples that offer programs to visitors.  Some did look very appealing to me but I have to confess that the thought of doing meditation scares the bejeezus out of me.  I don't think I can shut off my brain which has been in fully, high speed operation for decades.  I really had to think hard about a temple stay and in the end decided to not go forward with it. Farm stays really sounded appealing at first but after more research, I also decided a Korean farm stay it wasn't for me.

So, I will settle to being in Korea for eight days - possibly 10.  I hope I don't regret the decision.  I guess I can always come back.

A view from Victoria Peak, looking north over Central, Victoria Harbour and Kowloon.
(Photo by
chensiyuan. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.)

I then began to look for flights to Seoul and all of a sudden, a lightbulb went off in my head.  Hong Kong!  It's literally been decades since I have been there and I have been absolutely dying to return.  As recent as last year, I was plotting a trip there.  So lucky that it's just a short distance from Seoul.  I wonder.   Hmmm...how much would it cost to fly there?  And it's fall.....are there any festivals going on when I'll be there?  I hit the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!!  For just $100 more, I can stop over in Hong Kong on my way home AND.....here's the best part....I can be in Hong Kong for the Mid Autumn Festival!!  Mooncakes here I come!!

Mooncake.
(Photo by Mk2010. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.)
The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Han calendar—essentially the night of a full moon—which falls near the Autumnal Equinox (on a day between September 8 and October 7 in the Gregorian calendar). In 2016, the Mid-Autumn Festival will fall on September 15.  I've always known the holiday as how it's pronounced in Cantonese - "baht yuut sup mmm".   "baht yuut" translates to 8th month and "sup mmm" to "15th day".  Not that I'm a superstitious person but the fact that it falls on a day where I can be in the country is a sign I must go to Hong Kong.  It's auspicious! :-)

Today, I had lunch with Ayşe and her friend Pelin.  We ate at a local Burmese restaurant to have a taste of the cuisine before we leave on our trip.  I mentioned the Hong Kong trip to Ayşe and with very little convincing, she expressed interest in coming along.  I emailed her the dates I will be there and a brief description of the Mid Autumn Festival.  Let's see if that works out or not.   We travel really well together and I wouldn't mind having her along to explore with!

I have yet to take any of the trips I have planned so far for 2016 and I already have another one in the pipeline :-)  No, there is no such thing as too much traveling for me!!

Korea and Hong Kong.  Here we come!