Top 10 Reasons to Join a Korean Gym

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

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Top 10 Korean Phrases – A Vlog

Last night myself and Shauna (from the amazing “What a Waygook” blog) decided to make our very first Vlog. We wanted it to be informative but also fun, so we decided to talk about the ‘Top 10 Korean Phrases’ that you should know while living here. Shauna asked all of her Facebook friends and followers which phrases they thought were the most useful and then we sat down in Shauna’s apartment, cup of Barry’s Tea in hand and pretty much had a chat about learning Korean.

We must have been chatting for about half an hour when we realised our beautiful video had cut off after 12 minutes due to the memory card being full. DISASTER!! A real beginners mistake, I know, but as my Dad always says, “If you do not learn from your mistakes, your are doomed to repeat them” and I can guarantee you this is not a mistake we will be repeating again!We hoped to teach you the Top 10 Korean Phrases (with a few BONUS phrases thrown in for good measure) but as our video cuts off early, you only get to enjoy the top 8 Korean phrases this time. We will finish the Vlog next week though, don’t you worry!

We really enjoyed making the video together and we are hoping you will enjoy watching it. It was our FIRST EVER time doing this, so please let us know (leave a comment here or tweet us @iamshaunabrowne or @janetnewenham)  if you would like us to make any other videos about life in Korea.

Here are the phrases (Yes, there are actually more than 10, we know!!) written in both Korean and English and with what we hope is the proper way to pronounce them. Happy Learning!

1. Hello– 안녕하세요. Anyeong ha sayo.

2. Thank You– 감사합니다 Gamsa ham ni da

3. Yes– 네 ney

4. No– 아니요 ah ni o

5. Where is the ___________? ________ 이 어디에 있어요? ___ o d eh is oh yo?  For example, “Where is the bathroom?’ The word for bathroom is 화장실( hwa jang shil) so the sentence becomes 화장실이 어디에 있어요?

6. How to I get to _______? _________ 어땋게 가요? o ddeok kay gay yo? For example, How do I get to Seoul is 서울 어떻게 가요?

7. I’m sorry– 미안합니다. me ann ham ni da. There are a few ways to say I’m sorry. This one is very polite and once you get better at Korean you can change the polite level depending on the situation.

8.Discount Please, 갂아 주세요. Gakk ah chew say yo. This can only be used when the price isn’t set. For example at a market or somewhere.

9. Simmer down/calm down; 침착해요. Chim chak hay yo. A great one if you’re out and about and someone is bothering you or something like that.

10. How much is this? 이거 얼마예요? e go ul mah eh yo? (이거 being “this”).

11. Directions; 직진- jik jin,  Straight

오른쪽 oh ruhn chuk, Right

윈쪽 wen chuk, Left

여기 세워 주세요. yoh gi say woh Chew say yo, Stop here please

12. Really? 진짜? jiin ja? I love this word! Even these days when I can’t follow my student or whatever I just reply “진짜”?

13. One moment please, 잠깐만요. Jam can man yo, . You can use this when getting off the subway, bus or just to say “wait a minute”

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Small Town, Big Lights

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

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Royal Tombs of Joseon Dynasty

While exploring Paju yesterday, we came across s sign in Korean that pointed us in the direction of some the Samneung Royal Tombs. We had already admired views of North Korea from the Odusan Unification Observatory, payed our respects at the tomb of Jeong Yeon, and enjoyed a delicious Dak-Galbi lunch so we were up for some more adventure!

On arrival we were impressed to see a stone plaque that revealed the tombs as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and were keen to explore this somewhat secluded and rarely visited tourist location. However as we tried to enter we discovered the entrance gate was closed and there was pad lock hanging from it. Perseverance can go a long way sometimes, so I check to see if the lock was in fact LOCKED. Much to our delight it wan’t so we decided there would be no harm opening the gate and taking a stroll through the wooden farm land that lay ahead.

The first thing that hit us was how beautiful this whole area was. There were fields or incredible green rice paddies to our left and dense forrest to our right. There was no traffic, no multi story apartment buildings and no noise to interrupt the peace bar the incessant buzzing of hundreds of Cicadas.

Stop 1: Tomb of Jeong Yeon

Stop 1: Tomb of Jeong Yeon

royal tombs of joseon dynasty

UNESCO World Heritage Site

After a 5-10 minute walk we turned to the right and saw what looked like the Samneung tombs. However it was lear they were all under construction and there really wasn’t a whole lot to see. As we were aware that we were not really supposed to be in here, and the construction workers were giving us funny looks, we turned back a little disappointed. However just around the corner, less than a 5 minute walk, we discovered something 10 times better than the Samneung Tombs!

We had stumbled across something truly amazing…. Royal Tombs from the Joseon Dynasty! The whole area was immaculate, with an area the size of a football pitch covered in perfectly manicured grass. In the middle stood a tall, red, spiked entrance arch, the same arch which Royalty on horseback would have walked through 100’s of years ago! At the end of the “worship road” there was a T-shaped Shrine surrounded by some other huts which would have been the royal kitchen and a guard house.

Walking to the Tombs

Walking to the Tombs

Doorway at Samneung Tombs, Paju

Doorway at Samneung Tombs, Paju

Excited to get a little closer to take some photographs, we stepped on to the grass and took a few steps forward until suddenly loads of alarm bells starting ringing, scaring the life out of us. It wasn’t until we back tracked a few steps that the alarms stopped and we caught our breath. We looked around the perimeter to discover cameras everywhere. Every entrance, exit, tunnel, grass, tree and archway was covered by CCTV.

We couldn’t understand why a top tourist attraction would want to detract attention and visitors but not wanting to get in trouble we took some pictures from a distance and headed back to the car, making sure to leave the gate closed behind us.

The ALARMED archway to the tombs

The ALARMED archway to the tombs

Jangneung Fish Eye Lense

Jangneung Tombs (Fish Eye Lens)

Jangneung Tombs, Paju

Jangneung Tombs, Paju

When I get home I did a little research on the tombs and and came across this notice, “For preservation reasons, this royal tomb is not open to the general public. This is the mausoleum of King Injo (1595-1649, reign 1623-1649), the 16th ruler of the Joseon Dynasty, and Queen Illyeol. “

Whoops…breaking and entering into a tourist site is one thing but breaking and entering into  site of the Mausoleum of King Injo is something else! I’m looking forward to where my next Korean adventure will take me. 

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Stunning views of North Korea

It’s not every day that you go on an adventure with two of your friends, in search of a Fortress, and end up less than 2km from North Korea! Well, that’s exactly what happened to me today! As Im living in rural Korea, more than an hour from Seoul, most weekends are spent on the train to the ‘big city’, to go out, party, meet friends and enjoy all the other amazing things that the city of lights has to offer.

Today, Thursday, is Independence Day in Korea so everyone had the day off. Not wanting to make the long trek to Seoul just for the day, my friend Shauna suggested we explore our Paju in her car as she heard there was a fortress only 20 minutes drive form where we live. Nobody ever explores Paju, so it seemed like a great opportunity to prove to all the ‘haters’ that there really are great things to do in this region.

After 30 minutes driving, and frantic attempts at translating tourist signs which were only written in Korean we eventually ended up in a large car park which doubled up as a drive in cinema and a go-karting track! This was definitely not what we were looking for, but there were lots of other tourists around so we parked and wandered around. (We even got a 50% reduction on the parking fee because her car is so small – It’s the little things!) We were told to hop on a free shuttle bus which would bring us to Odusan Unification Observatory. As the name of the fortress was Odusan fortress we knew we were going in the right direction.

The bus brought us up a steep and winding hill, with pretty stunning views of the local countryside. On arrival at the top we were all seriously excited as the views were phenomenal. The fact that it was a sunny day made things look even better. As it turned out there was no fortress to be found, as the fortress was actually a centuries old fortress, on which the observatory had been built on top of! Oh well, we didn’t mind too much as this place was pretty spectacular.

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Shauna checking out the view

Flag flying high on Korean Independence Day

Flag flying high outside the Odusan Observatory on Korean Independence Day

We paid the dirt cheap 3,000 won entrance fee, took some photos of the gigantic Korean flag blowing in the wind then entered the obseravtory, unsure of what we were going to see. We then proceeded to measure ourselves next to the ‘average North Korean soldier’, admire a photography exhibit of photographs portraying the horror of the Korean war, and eventually went upstairs where we had a private screening of a short movie outlining what could be seen from the observatory.

The obseravtory had  360 degree views of the surrounding area but it was the view to the North that captured our attention. The Observatory is situated at the meeting point of the Imjin River and the Han river, and as they join together the river continues to flow North, into North Korea. Directly out the windows in front of us was a clear, unobstructed 180 degree view of a country we know so little about. The river which divides the two countries is 2km at its widest point and only 460 meters at the narrowest point. AS it is tidal, you could almost WALK across the river bed at low tide. You could pretty much WALK to North Korea in about 10 minutes. MIND BOGGLING.

Visitors young and old enjoying the views from the observatory

Visitors young and old enjoying the views from the observatory

Map outling where we were and what we were looking at across the river and border.

Map outlining where we were and what we were looking at across the river and border.

Fancy sending a postcard from the Demilitarized Zone??

Fancy sending a postcard from the Demilitarized Zone??

The short movie informed us that everything we could see was built by the North Koreans as propaganda; impressive houses and multi stories apartment blocks, all to show how “amazing” life is over there. This would have been more convincing if the houses weren’t half finished, some with no roofs, other just looking empty and uninhabited.

We had a chance to look through binoculars for a few minutes to get a closer view at life in the North and I was jumping around with surprise when I saw 2 men in black walking through a field chatting, and another man wearing white working in a field. You’d swear I had just spotted aliens on Mars or something. I really don’t know why I was so happy to see people, but I guess everything to do with North Korea is exciting when we know SO little about the country.

View of North Korea from the viewing platform

View of North Korea from the viewing platform

Beautiful day in North Korea...weather wise.

Beautiful day in North Korea…weather wise.

I can ALMOST touch it!

I can ALMOST touch it!

Besides my childish excitement, I was also quite pensive as I watched some local South Korean kids posing with plastic soldiers, eating ice-creams and taking pictures on their 500 dollar smart phones, while imagining the lives that similarly aged kids have only a few kilometers away. Will we ever really know what is going on across the border?

(Details: If you are visiting South Korea and would like to check out the Odusan Observatory you can get the Gyeonggi-Line train from Seoul to Geumchon station then get the 900 bus from Geumchon all the way to the Observatory car park, then get the free shuttle bus to the top. More info HERE. Feel free to ask questions and I will do my best to answer.)

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