Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What to do on a typhoon-errific day in Korea! AKA it's monsoon season.

Last night I was serenaded to sleep by the music of whistling winds blowing and the pouring rains pounding outside my window.  This is very atypical weather for someone that lives in the central to northern part of California, USA. Here we are used to temperatures ranging in the mid to high 30 and sometime 40 Celsius range!  For those of us Americans not on the same system as the rest of the world, that’s a range in the 90s and 100s Fahrenheit! Ridiculous!  Thankfully we have very dry heat patterns as opposed to the 90+ percent humidity during a summer in northeast Asia.  

This rain storm reminded me of the torrential downpours and rains I experienced in South Korea the past few summers. Strangely, I actually miss the humid rainy days and was calmed by the reminiscent thoughts of Korea’s rains flowing through my head. [Crazy, right? Yeh, I think I miss Korea a lot!] I’m sure most anyone reading this and experiencing Asia’s typhoons and monsoon season for the first time does not agree with my pleasant thoughts and would rather seek ways to avoid this weather pronto. Puddles to your knees, drenched shirts, useless umbrellas, and sticky wet feet – sound familiar anyone?  Right now is Korea’s monsoon (장마 - changma) season. This season usually lasts from late June to mid August!  For anyone from a dry non-humid climate it’s like a hell with rain instead of fire on earth.  You can never escape the moisture. If you shower don’t bother toweling off. You’re going to be sticky 30 seconds later and you’re likely to walk right outside into your second or third shower.

So what if you’re one of those adventure-loving but rain fearing types and have nothing to do on a rainy day in Korea? What are you to do?  First, gear up for the rain! Then, embrace the weather, take a skip through a typhoon blowing by and find something to do!  Need an idea? Here are five things to consider on a rainy day in Korea. Sorry folks, for many of these you’ll have to be traveling through Seoul.

Let’s gear up first!  

1.  Umbrella!  The Number 1 thing you will need if you are to live in Korea during monsoon season is an umbrella! That’s common sense, isn’t it?  Well, of course it is, but for people like me [who thought they were immune to rain but are NOT immune to Korea’s monsoon season] an umbrella seems like a waste of a hand that could be used for holding a cool drink or shopping bag. Koreans insist on holding umbrellas because of the acid rain.  There is a myth (could it be true?) that you will lose your hair because of the acidity of the rain if you do not protect yourself.  I’ve begun to side more with this statement as truth in order to avoid any nervous comments at my lack of umbrella use.  If you forget your umbrella or find a typhoon taking you by surprise you can be sure to find one anywhere in Korea at this time of year. They’re at almost all of the major subway stops or street markets and even cute shops-especially if you are in the cities such as Seoul, Daegu, Busan, Daejeon, etc.

If you're carrying an umbrella you'll have to look out for the umbrella bag stand placed near the entrance of buildings. Because Koreans know this weather so well, they were smart enough to create the bag stand  - a contraption that allows you to place your umbrella in a bag and pull it out covered, ready to enter a building.  Be sure to utilize the bag stand before entering any of the venues you’ll visit. Umbrella bags maintain drier indoor environments by preventing water from dripping everywhere.  

bag stand (minus the bags)

 The other rainy day items are optional and also very common sense. They don’t hurt to have if fashion isn’t your number one priority! Although, the rainy day fashion can be pretty cute-at least on children!  

Cute korean children's rain gear
courtesy of

2.  Raincoat! You can remove it once you enter the store or work place! This is a great addition to an umbrella. With winds blowing the rain east and west, to and fro you’re bound to get soaked without one.  

3.  Rain boots! Puddles to your mid-calf? Rain boots to the rescue. There are lots of trendy colors and styles, too!  Just look at how T-ara wears them!

kpop group, T-ara sporting their trendy rain boots. (2010)

Now, let’s go! 5 things to do on a rainy day in Korea. 

1.  Lotte World! Lotte World is the world’s largest indoor theme park located in the Jamsil (east side) region of Seoul.  On a rainy day could you find anything better to do than go for spin on the indoor ice rink or a roller coaster ride through the indoor park?  Lotte World is open year around and is home to museums such as the Folk Museum and delicious international cuisines. When it’s not raining you can enjoy its outdoor park themed “Magic Island” and on the gloomy wet days you can enjoy the indoor “Adventure” park.  You can access Lotte World from Line 2 and 8 of the subway system.
2.  Jimjilbang/Sauna! (찜질방/사우나) Aren’t you trying to escape the wet humidity?  Going to a sauna or jimjilbang may defeat the purpose of staying dry-at least you’ll be out of the acid rain and wind!  At a bathhouse you can enjoy a warm shower, a nice sweat in a hot room, a chill in a cold room and partake in the singing or game rooms with friends. Not to mention there’s always some refreshing shikhye (rice drink) or maeshil (plum drink) commonly sipped on in a Korean sauna.  You can also enjoy some ramyon (라면) and boiled eggs with your friends. You can find a bathhouse in any town in Korea, but the biggest ones are in Seoul. My favorite sauna is Siloam at Seoul Station Line 1.  The most famous sauna is Dragon Hill Spa at Yongsan Station off of Line 1 or Line 4. It's large and beautiful with many facilities! You can check out my post on jimjilbangs and saunas answering a few questions for first-timers here.

3.  Noraebang (노래방- translated -> singing room) Noraebangs, private karaoke rooms to be enjoyed with friends or alone, are extremely popular in Korea! The noraebang experience is one of the most well-known pastimes almost all Koreans enjoy!  Once you’ve found a nice room filled with fun friends and luscious couches you’re sure to pass the rainy day and sometimes even the whole night away! In the room you will find a book full of songs to choose from.  Don’t worry there are even some English, Japanese and Chinese selections! You’ll grab a remote, follow the directions on the screen and enter your selections. Once you get the words up on the screen, take a microphone and start singing your heart away! You’ll be pretty famous among the locals if you find a kpop favorite of the year and try to learn that too! If anything, learn to dance to a song and you’ll be loved forever.  Many Koreans have good voices (they get enough practice in noreabangs!) but for those of us with subpar voices you’re likely to make a little fool of yourself! Even with a great voice there’s always a lot of crazy to go around inside the walls of a singing room. So don’t worry! Have fun!

4.  Fun at COEX Mall in Seoul! Korea is full of shopping malls from the sky scrapers such as Migliore (in Dongdaemun and Myeongdong shopping districts) or Shinsegae Department store to the large shopping centers acting as a one- stop shops for cosmetics, food, and designer fashion such as the I’Park Mall in Yongsan!  They’re all known for something different and will keep you busy on a bad weather day!  However, COEX, the largest underground shopping mall in all of Asia, is a “one-stop shop” for everything and more! If you’re traveling through Seoul, you’ll have to set aside a few hours (maybe even days) to fully partake in all of the available attractions. It is located in Gangnam at Samsung station (Green Line 2 of the subway).
COEX attractions:: 
a.     The Kimchi Field Museum- Here you’ll learn about Korea’s staple food item, kimchi. The museum contains several different exhibits that explain and display the history of kimchi as well as the process of kimchi making.
b.    COEX Aquarium- The only theme-based aquarium in Korea, the COEX Aquarium, holds several hundred species and approximately 40,000 fish swimming around the tanks! It’s a very beautiful sight to see.
c.    Megabox Cineplex Tired of all the walking and shopping?  Take a nice break and kick back for a movie at COEX’s Megabox Theater.
d.    International Cuisine- After sightseeing, shopping and a movie you're probably getting hungry!  The COEX food court is home to endless options such as Burger King and McDonalds or T.G.I Fridays and On The Border. Seafood lovers have the option of dining at Todai Restaurant while others with more specific tastes can choose from Korean, Chinese, and Japanese cuisines. Already eaten and want something a little lighter? Options such as Pascucci, Coffee Bean, and Dunkin Donuts are just a few of the coffee shops you can enjoy.

5.   Museums- This may be the last resort for some, but if you’re in Korea to learn about the culture and its history, visiting a museum or two will be very informative!  There are several museums throughout the major cities of Korea – each with a different focus.  I would suggest visiting the largest museum in Korea, the National Museum of Korea, a museum of art and history located in the Yongsan region of Seoul. There are six exhibition galleries as well as special exhibition halls and a children’s museum. After the rains let up move outside to enjoy the interesting sculptures and outdoor exhibits. Admission? Free!  A  day of culture, history, and sightseeing for free! Sign me up!

If you’re looking for something a little softer on the eyes head over to N Seoul Tower for the Teddy Bear Museum!  Although this museum will cost a couple of won, it is a unique way to see Seoul’s past, present, and future creatively exhibited with cute little teddy bears adorned in Korea's traditional wear!
I hope this gives you a bigger taste of Korea and a few ideas of things you can do on a typhoon-errific kind of a day!  Now go frolic in some puddles! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Ice Flower" theme song for drama "Kiss and Cry" by Kim Yuna and IU released today

The new theme song produced by Lee Min Soo for SBS's drama Kiss and Cry called "Ice Flower" featuring Kim Yuna (Korea's skating Queen) and IU was released today (June 21, 2011)! An excerpt of the song was previewed on the June 19th episode of the show before its full release June 21st. Surprisingly it was was recorded less than 10 days prior to its first preview.
The song delivers a message of hope challenging everyone to overcome his or her obstacles. Although it is a metaphor to the obstacles and hardships that figure skaters, like Yuna herself, face during training I believe it's of great encouragement to the average person!  We all face struggles in our daily lives.  Even though we may fall on the ice and get a little hurt, we figuratively speaking, get back up on the ice and skate again!

The profits from the purchase of this song will serve to help train figure skaters and improve training practices for figure skaters in Korea. Figure skaters in Korea do not have their own ice rinks and therefore have to share with hockey players. You may support the cause by purchasing here.

Check out the video!  Kim Yuna has many talents!  She's a spectacular ice skater of sorts, but almost as equally captivating is her voice and her personality!