Hyundai Tour

This week I went on a tour of the Hyundai car production plant in the city of Asan. This was an organized tour for a group of military wives and their children.  I've never toured a car factory before so I jumped at the opportunity.  Hyundai is a Korean car company with production plants all over the world.  One of the first things I learned on the tour is that I've been saying Hyundai wrong all of my life.  It is correctly pronounced He-un-day :)

Our group rented a Korean charter bus to take us all to and from the plant.  Charter buses here generally have a more decorative interior than American ones but this one was decked out to the max.  There fringed purple curtains that matched the purple seats, colored lights on the ceiling, a hot/cold water dispenser with coffee mixes, and a large flat-screen TV with a DVD player.  The driver was nice enough to play a movie for us - it was an odd Korean cartoon but it helped pass the time :)

Upon arriving at the plant, we met our tour guide who spoke to us briefly before showing us two short movies.  One movie was about the plant and what we would be seeing on the tour, and the other was about how wonderful Hyundai is as a car company.  Our tour guide then told us the two rules we must obey during the tour: 1.) no photos can be taken in the plant  2.) hold your child's hands tightly

Walking through the plant was incredible.  We walked through multiple huge and noisy buildings, each with a different purpose.  The first building we walked through was where sheets of metal were cut and pressed into doors, sides, trunks, and hoods.  There were only 40 people working in the large building, simply to maintain the robots and machines that were doing all of the labor.  I've seen pictures and videos of big robotic arms before but seeing them in person was extraordinary. They moved so gracefully and precisely; effortlessly lifting large pieces of metal as if they were paper.

The welding building was the reason for tour rule #2.  We passed at least 20 large red "emergency stop" buttons that were exactly at the eye level of most of the children with us.  The buttons were there, unobstructed, begging for a child's hand to touch them.  To add to the comedy of the situation, there was electronic merry-go-round music resonating throughout the building.  Were they tempting us?  I admit, I wanted to push a button myself :)

I actually found a website with a video someone took of parts of the tour of this plant.  I suppose they can argue that that rule #1 technically says no photos.  You can view the video at

As a parting gift, we were given a model car and an informational book that says Hyundai is "loved by the world," will "make your dreams come true," and will "bring you happiness."  I'm not quite sure about all of that but getting the toy car did make me smile :)

"If you never did, you should.  These things are fun, and fun is good."
~Dr. Seuss

Pagodas and Tea - part 4 of 4

Finally, the tea part of Pagodas and Tea!  After spending some quiet time visiting the pagodas and the graves, we spent some time talking to the monk that I'm pictured with below and then we had a tea ceremony with another monk.  The tea ceremony was a great experience.  We sat on cushions on the floor around a very small low table.  The monk was on one side of the table preparing the tea and we were on the other.  The monk spoke fairly good English and seemed to enjoy having the opportunity to practice speaking it.  We sat for a long time, drinking a lot of tea, and talking about a range of subjects.

One thing the monk went into depth about was meditation.  He suggested that I learn about meditation and practice it for at least 5 minutes a day.  He said that life is like driving a car and you often come to crossroads on the journey.  Without meditation, you can't steer and you must go straight through the crossroads, leaving things up to karma.  However with meditation, you have control and you can choose to turn the wheel at any crossroad you come to.  He said the most important things to remember about meditation are to trust your inner self, to let things go, and realize that everything is connected.  It was a very thought provoking afternoon.

It was explained to me that certain colors of ceramic pots are better for certain teas.  If you brew tea in the wrong pot, it will affect the flavor.  We had two teas during our ceremony; one brewed in the little brown pot and one brewed in the white pot.  Both pots of tea were made with loose tea leaves.  The tea in the white pot honestly tasted like chocolate - I have to find out what it is and where to buy it :)

The cups are so little - they only hold about 2 oz (1/4 cup) of liquid.

After the tea ceremony, the monk and I exchanged website information via our iPhones.  That's right, he has an iPhone :)  During tea, he showed us hundreds of pictures he has taken during his travels.  He's been to some amazing places and he's a great photographer.  You can visit his website here.

We were at the temple for so long that it was dinner time when we were about to leave.  The women in the kitchen there were nice enough to give us some traditional Korean food to eat.  Sprouts, noodles, vegetables, kimchi, rice, red pepper sauce, and an egg - everything put in one bowl and mixed together before eating.

"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change
that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."
~Miriam Beard

Pagodas and Tea - part 3 of 4

A while ago I did a post on Korean grave mounds.  Bodies are buried under a circular mound of dirt.  A single grave here, a group of graves there, but no official cemeteries.  At this temple there was an actual cemetery, at least in the sense that there was row upon row of stone monuments.  People who worshiped at this temple and died could have a monument erected in their memory.  The monuments are over five feet tall and very expensive so they are not affordable to many people.  The monument is more of a memorial than an actual final resting place for the body.  Bodies are cremated and some of the ashes are placed at the monument while the rest of the ashes are spread around elsewhere.  I was told that some of these monuments don't even contain ashes, but only the soul or spirit of the person.

There was a funeral in progress during our visit.
We stepped in, did some bows of reverence, and then quietly left.

"Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely."

Pagodas and Tea - part 2 of 4

After lunch at the rustic cabin restaurant, we continued on to the Korean Buddhist Temple.  The temple is an area that consists of multiple pagodas, buildings, statues, and a cemetery.  A pagoda, by definition, is a religious building of the Far East, especially a multistory Buddhist tower, erected as a memorial or a shine. There was a peaceful energy flowing through this beautiful place that I feel privileged to have gotten to experience.

"Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without."

A new pagoda under construction - note the two men sitting
on the rock under the tree in the front left for size comparison.

"The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows."

"The mind is the source of happiness and unhappiness."

"The whole secret of existence is to have no fear."

"Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of that candle
will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."

Pagodas and Tea - part 1 of 4

Yesterday I went with a Korean friend on a day trip to see a Korean Buddhist pagoda.  We had a great time and it was such an interesting day that this will end up being a three or four part blog post series.  

Before going to the pagoda, we stopped for lunch.  Some of the restaurants I've gone with this friend to eat at are places I would likely never find, let alone visit on my own.  This restaurant was no exception - it was outside of a little town and off the main road.  It looked more like a rustic lodge than a restaurant.  There was a small pond behind it and many old odds and ends sitting around outside.  The atmosphere inside was charming and the food was delicious :)

The exterior of the restaurant.

An old western saddle on a wooden horse outside the restaurant.

A unique 'pants' swing outside the restaurant.

The pond behind the restaurant.

The inside of the restaurant had a cozy log-cabin feel.

There was a fire burning.

Many of the chairs were handmade, each of them different.

This handmade carved table said something along the lines of
"Alcohol will get you drunk but so will the beauty of a woman"

Patrons of the restaurant write notes of wishes or needs and tack them to the walls all around the restaurant, some with money.  Once a year or so, the money is collected and given to the needy.

Kimchi, a staple served with every Korean meal.

Yellow pickled radish, also served with every Korean meal.

Being an adventurous eater, I rolled with spicy squid and vegetables.

After lunch we headed to the pagoda... but that will be tomorrow's post :)

"Fortune favors the bold."

Cracking Coconuts

I love coconut water.  Coconut water is the clear liquid found inside young coconuts.  It's fat free, cholesterol free, low calorie, and has more electrolytes than the leading sports drinks.  You can read more about it here and here and at numerous other websites.

I can't find pure coconut water anywhere here.  The Commissary actually has canned coconut water but it has chemical preservatives in it.  I've also seen a Korean canned drink that has coconuts and grapes pictured on the outside but there is a long list of ingredients written in Hangul.  Coconut water should have one ingredient - coconut water.

Much to my disappointment, won't deliver coconut water (or Luna Bars) to APO addresses.  Luckily, at least for a while, the Commissary actually had young coconuts in stock!  I was able to get my coconut water fix by cracking open an actual coconut.

Cut off the pointed end of the husk, getting down to the hard shell.

Whack the coconut with the sharp bottom corner of a large knife.

Drive the tip of the knife into the hole you made and then wiggle
it around, cutting a circular piece off the top of the coconut.

Once it gets started, it's surprisingly easy to cut but you have to do
this carefully because young coconuts are filled to the brim with water.

Finally, stick a straw in the coconut or pour the water into a glass and enjoy :)  The coconut meat can then be scraped out with a spoon and eaten, added to smoothies, or used in other recipes.  The younger the coconut is, the softer and more gelatinous the meat is.

It's so much fun drinking coconut water straight from a coconut but young coconuts are not always available.  No worries, however, because my coconut water shortage has been solved another way!  I was recently placing an order at and saw that they started carrying coconut water AND..... they'll deliver it to APO boxes!!!  I received my order exactly one week after placing it!  Way to go Vitamin World, you are my coconut water hero :)

"There is sweet water inside a tender coconut.  Who put the water inside the coconut?  Was it the work of any man?  No, only the Divine could do such a thing."
~Sri Sathya Sai Baba