Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wrapping Up and Signing Off

My last weekend in Korea was lovely...I had a sinus infection and a couple other little ailments, but I wanted to say goodbye to Angie and Mike so I made the journey to Busan anyway. We visited a temple on the coast, and then we went to Gwanali Beach and played around for a few hours. It was a really laid back weekend, and I got to hang out with some of my favorite Koreans as well. Mike's older brother Gareth was visiting from Wales and his Korean friends from Daegu were visiting so there was a big group of us mulling about enjoying the slower parts of Korean life...
Anyway, my last week was fairly busy with farewell outings and with wrapping things up so I could be ready to leave. Monday I went to the hospital to investigate my sinus infection (turns out one side of my face was full of stuff...not cool). Mac (my coworker) left the same day I did, so he had a going away party on Tuesday, my goodbye outing was Wednesday, Thursday was a night in to pack and such, and Friday was another night out. Angie, Mike, and Gareth came up to Daegu to say goodbye and to take me to the airport, so I didn't sleep before the big flight. I had a great last night; I enjoyed my last five pints of Hite and/or Cass, I learned how to play darts and discovered that I'm either decent or have spectacular beginner's luck, and I got to hang out with some really cool people. And I made it to the airport on time for my flight. I even had time for a cup of tea before I had to head through security.
I left from Daegu, headed up to Seoul, flew to Tokyo, then it was the long haul to Washington, D.C., and from there I had one last flight to Portland where my parents and best friend picked me up. I actually didn't mind the small flights; it's the 15 hour flight from Tokyo to DC that's killer. And somehow I ended up between two people again. Awesome.
It's nice to be home, but there are definitely things I miss about Korea. So far jet lag has not been kind to me. I'm exhausted within a couple hours of waking up, and 7pm is starting to seem like an acceptable bedtime. It's all I can do just to sort through the mail on my desk. And apparently it makes me ridiculously emotional. I cried at dinner for no apparent reason on Sunday. Crazy. Anyway, I've already begun my job search here in Maine, but if prospects are looking dismal at the end of the summer I may consider heading back to Korea. I was actually starting to love it by the time I had to go. Who knows what the future holds? But for now, I'm happy to be home :)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Gone to Where the Lava Flows...Jeju!

I was determined to visit Jeju Island before I left Korea, and now I can finally check it off my list. It was an exhausting weekend, but Jeju was well worth visiting. In case you’ve never heard of Jeju, it’s a large island off the southern coast of South Korea with a sub-tropical climate, volcano craters, lava tubes, palm trees, etc. Pretty sweet.
Our flight left Gimpo Airport in Seoul early on Saturday morning so Angie and I had to take a train to Seoul Station after work on Friday night. We cheaped out and took the slow train so it took 4.5 hours to get to Seoul. We then had to take a 30 minute cab ride to the airport, where we proceeded to wait for 3 hours until our group met and headed for the boarding gate. Our group consisted of 20 expatriates, hailing from the US, England, Ireland, and South Africa. Needless to say, neither the train that stops every 15 minutes, nor the wooden airport benches were conducive to sleeping so we pulled an all-nighter before our trip. The flight only took an hour, but I did get a little cat nap in before the long day.
Our first stop was for food. We had fish, and if you know me you know I’m not a huge fan of seafood so I was pretty sure I was going to starve for the weekend. It literally looked like someone chopped a mackerel into 4 pieces and threw it into a stew with halved potatoes and other veggies. Angie finally convinced me to try it, and much to my surprise, it was actually not bad. Good enough to eat, anyway. Also, please allow me to toot my own horn a bit here and mention that I’m so skilled with chopsticks now that I can peel the skin off a fish and separate fish bones from meat.
Our group headed to Bird Island after lunch. I didn’t see any birds, but we did hear some (Angie tried to call them out of hiding, but no such luck). It did have lots of cool lava rock formations, though, as well as some nice vegetation and views of other islands. After a walk around the island we hopped on a ferry which took us on a tour around a couple other islands. Angie gets wicked motion sick on ferries, so she spent the whole ride trying not to hurl. A few of the islands had these huge caves that the Japanese blasted to hide weapons and equipment in during WWII.
We had a bit of free time so we visited the Jeju International Convention Center, which is not terribly exciting in and of itself, but it was surrounded by huge fields covered in rape flowers (actually rapeseed flowers, but Koreans have no qualms about calling them rape flowers). It was a nice little photo op, and we were all appreciative of the chance to frolic and stretch our legs a bit.
Next up was the O’Sulloc green tea farm. I never knew exactly how green tea grew, and even now that I’ve seen enough waist high green tea hedges to last me for the rest of my life, I still wouldn’t be able to identify one. It looks exactly like all the other green leafy hedges I’ve ever seen. There could be green tea growing in my neighbor’s yard for all I know. And in leaf form, it tastes just like any other leaf. Just so you know. While I was standing amongst the rows of hedges I felt like I should be filming a Lipton commercial so I made my own little video on my camera.

I’m pretty sure there is nothing Korean about our next destination, but it was fun nonetheless. We went to Jeju Circus World to take in a Chinese Acrobatic and Motorbike show. Crazy. I’ve never seen so many ridiculously flexible and graceful women. I would most certainly kill myself attempting even the simplest of their stunts, but then again I am one of the world’s clumsiest people. At the age of six my gymnastics instructor told me I should probably pursue another sport. And then, they had SIX small motorcycles in one big steel hamster ball, all going around in intersecting circles. I was so tense it was hard to actually enjoy the performance. It was insane.
After the show we had dinner (dried fish that I didn’t eat), and headed to our pension (like a self-service hotel). Unfortunately, it was Korean style sleeping, and this time our “mats” were no more than thinly quilted blankets. The good thing was that I was tired enough to sleep anywhere at that point so I fell asleep quickly. The bad thing was that the ondol (floor heat) was turned WAAAAY up so I woke up sweating bullets in the middle of the night. Bad thing #2 was that I woke up stiff and achey and with a pounding headache due to the fact that I slept on the wooden floor all night. Good thing #2 was that we had cool roommates: three girls who teach in Seoul and are all from the US (Meaghan from MD, Dana from NY, and Natalie from MN).
After breakfast at the pension we headed to Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak), a beautiful volcanic crater with a great view of Jeju. It was a little rainy and quite windy, but we hiked the 20 minutes up the steps carved out of volcanic rock, and it was well worth the effort (despite the strain on my lungs; somehow I managed to relapse into my nasty cold right before the trip).

Lunch was the famous Jeju black pork BBQ. Sooo delicious. Our table decided to be a little adventurous with our food so we threw a couple side dishes into the wok to add a bit of extra flavor (not that it didn't have enough already). We added a couple dishes of garlic and a couple dishes of kimchi (that made it significantly spicier), and I wasn't sure it was possible, but it was even more delicious afterward. We also had makali with lunch (Korean rice wine). So good! (Here's a pic of lunch and a makali toast with new friends!)

Fortunately, our next stop was indoors so we were able to wait out the icky weather. We went to a Trick Art Museum, which was a great way to kill an hour on a rainy day. It had lots of the famous works of art with slight alterations to turn them into optical illusions, as well as plenty of other lesser known pieces that were perhaps more fun to interact with. We took loads of pictures, but unfortunately mine are of mediocre quality because my flash is broken so I had to use a camera setting that was not entirely appropriate for my surroundings.

After the museum we headed to the Manjunggul Lava Tube, which is the largest in the world (not the longest, though it is 1 km in length). This is probably the coolest thing we saw that weekend…I’ve never seen volcanic anything before, so lava formations were super cool. I saw lava benches, lava stalactites, lava flows, lava toes, lava columns, you name it. It was dark, damp, cold, and uneven…everything a lava tube should be. The acoustics were great in the huge cavernous areas, too. Angie busted out her vocal trumpet and I made up little lava songs…it was a good time.
The penultimate destination was a hedge maze, which we successfully navigated with the help of our Seoulite friends, and then we treated ourselves to Jeju cactus ice cream as a reward for making it out alive (as if that isn’t enough of a reward). Fortunately, cactus ice cream comes without the little prickly parts ;) (This is Dana and me, about to enter the hedge maze.)
Our last stop was Love Land. It is a large indoor/outdoor art gallery full of erotic sculptures, statues, clay figurines, etc. It was hilarious and more than a little bit ironic. Korea is a super conservative country, so for this place to even exist inside Korea’s boundaries is kind of amazing. Second, the reactions of the Korean people were hysterical. Most of the guests were over 60 years old, and there were old women giggling like little girls and old men posing with statues like adolescent boys. Most of the pictures are too lewd, crude, or suggestive to post on a public forum, so I’ll stick to one of the more mild photos.

We did a little bit of souvenir shopping and returned to the Jeju airport for the flight home. Our flight was delayed by about 20 minutes for some reason, but we landed in Seoul around 10pm without incident. Angie and I had to book it to the train station to catch the last train out of Seoul, and unfortunately between the delayed flight and an argument with a cab driver (tried to charge us 40,000 won for a 20,000 won cab ride…we won), we missed the fast train (under 2 hours instead of the 4.5 hours on the slow train). But we did manage to catch the last train out of Seoul so we didn’t have to stay the night. I made it home around 3am, unpacked, and threw myself into bed.

I think I’m visiting Angie in Busan this coming weekend so I can say goodbye (this will be my last weekend in Korea). Nine days from now I’ll be on a plane headed back home!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Village People & Woobang Land

I guess I'm living a "live for the weekends" type of existence over here. Weekends are when I get to do fun exploratory stuff. Weekdays are for teaching and skyping. Saturday Hee Jung took Ted and me to Andong (a much smaller city located about 1.5 hours outside of Daegu by car). Our destination was the traditional Hahoe Village. People still live in the village and live the village life, and they've open it up to allow others to see how they go about daily life. This was one of my favorite adventures in Korea by far. There were rice paddies galore, we saw the tools they use for husking rice, almost all of the buildings are made of stone with a rice husk roof, and they have this gigantic ancient tree still living in the heart of the village. It's so old that it's considered sacred, and people write wishes on small slips of paper and tie them to the perimeter of the tree (or on small tree branches) for luck. And yes, I made a wish and tied mine amongst the others.
We also got to see a traditional masked performance with traditional Korean drumming and this funky little horn thing. It was pretty entertaining even though I couldn't understand the dialogue. There was enough acting that I was able to get the gist of the story. The masks that they use are famous all over Korea, but they originated in this small village. The village is located in the little nest created by the river bend, so they've got this beautiful view of the river and the cliffs on the opposite side, and if you turn around they've got a beautiful view of the mountains. They definitely picked a good spot.

Sunday Ted accompanied me to Woobang Land so I could jump from the Woobang Tower. It's the tallest tower in Asia at 202 meters, and I jumped from 123 meters up (the 77th floor). Let me say that although that sounds impressive, it wasn't as thrilling as I was hoping it would be. It's not quite bungee jumping; it's more like base jumping on a wire. It was still cool, but I'll have to wait until I'm stateside to do any real bungee jumping. Koreans aren't really into "extreme" sports so that's about as daring as they get.
The view from the observation deck of the tower was absolutely astounding. I knew Daegu was big, but I never imagined it was THAT big. The tower gives you a 360 degree view of the city, and it's literally city for as far as you car see. There's a little tiny bit of mountain tops in the distance, but it's city for miles and miles. Incredible. This particular photo includes a view of my neighborhood.
On the way out we went through the amusement park, and we got to see this ridiculous performance. We just so happened to arrive just as they were beginning the Korean pirate rendition of Riverdance. I LOVE Riverdance so of course I recorded a bit of it to share with my Irish kin back home.

Next weekend I'm headed to Jeju Island with Angie, so I'll be sure to take lots of photos and post to the blog as soon as I've recovered from the long exhausting weekend. I even purchased an additional larger SD card for my camera so there's no chance of me running out of room for pictures.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Donghwasa and a Wild Goose Chase

Last weekend was pretty low key. I contracted a lovely case of the common cold, which has allowed me to suffer nearly all of its possible symptoms (sore throat, congestion, headache, runny nose, post-nasal drip, loss of voice, and cough). This one's a champ for sure. I also cut my forehead on the ceiling of the bus...I was stepping up to one of the seats in the back, and at that very moment the bus lurched forward, causing me to bash my head on the ceiling. Other than these instances of slight misfortune, it was a decent weekend. Ted, Hee Jung, and I went to Donghwasa Temple in the Palgonsan Natural Park. It's essentially just a huge temple campus. Pretty neat to see though.

And we took a cable car ride to one of the mountain peaks. It's pretty scenic, even on a hazy day. We also ate lunch near the mountain. I had duck for the first time. Not bad, actually.
Sunday Ted and I went searching for some shrine that Ted found in a Daegu tourist guide book. I didn't really have any sort of invested interest in said shrine; it was more of an excuse to get out of the apartment. Long story short, we couldn't find the darn shrine because it's not very popular, the map sucked, and no one knew where it was. So we went for a walk in the woods instead. Purely by happenstance, we chose to exit the woods a different way than we entered because the trail appeared to head in the direction of the road we needed to get back to. And lo and behold, what should appear before us but the one and only shrine we had given up looking for. It was tiny, run down, unimpressive, locked, and surrounded by a rather impoverished looking little community. Thus, I took no photos. But at least we found it, and Ted was able to check it off his list. The Daegu guidebook has served us well in the past; I was rather surprised they saw fit to include this shrine as one of the tourist attractions worthy of a visit. Oh well.
Sunday evening, our Korean friend Jake took us out to his favorite restaurant on the mountain. It was pretty cool...each dining party gets their own private little hut, and when you're ready to order you just pick up the phone in the hut and place your order. Someone from the main house comes and delivers your food to you. It's pretty neat. Ok, that's all for now. I'll write again soon.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

No Jaeshi For These Kiddos!

A couple weeks ago was White Day in Korea. Apparently this is the day that girls give candy and sweets to boys (sort of the opposite of Valentine's Day). Ted got treats galore, and a few kids even broke with tradition to give me treats. Of course, the boys who gave me candy tried to do it as secretly as possible so their friends wouldn't make fun of them, but they almost always failed to go unnoticed by someone, who then brought it to the attention of the whole class. It almost makes the gesture even more sweet because they know they'll be ridiculed.
I wanted to have some visual evidence of my time at MoonKkang, so I brought my camera in and took some photos of my favorite classes. Some kids loved the camera and tried to steal all the limelight, but other kids shied away from the focus and attention (you'll notice a couple of those). Here's Jack (one of my favorite I3's), and Eric, who doesn't want anyone, including himself, to be captured on camera. He kept trying to ruin my pictures of other kids by flailing his arms around, jumping in front of the camera, or covering the kid with his coat. Then there is Jordan. This kid is absolutely wonderful. He's really bright and well behaved, and he always erases my whiteboard after every class. Such a sweetheart. I have a group of I4's that are so smart, so full of energy, and just overall a lot of fun. Naturally, they've become one of my favorite classes (even though teachers aren't really supposed to choose favorites). I'm really bummed that my twin boys (you'll see them) are leveling up. It's good for them...they're brilliant and very competitive; they deserve to move up. But they're such great kids that I hate to lose them (they're leveling out of my class). So anyway, here's the group. Also, I took a couple pictures of my desk space. The way the system works is a little different than American schools. I don't have a classroom. I teach in six different classrooms every day. The kids come in for two classes, and they stay in the same room. My partner teacher and I take turns teaching our group of kids. Then when the two classes are over, those kids leave and a new rotation of older kids comes in for the next two classes. Then my partner teacher and I take turns teaching them in different rooms. And then we repeat the process one more time during the night. So in between each class we have a break, and the teachers all return to the teacher's office while the kids stay in the class (or leave to go home while new kids come in). That is where my desk is (not in the classroom), so that's why it's facing a window. Anyway, here it is:

That's it for school-related stuff, but I do have a little story I wanted to share. Last weekend it was positively beautiful here. It was at least 70 degrees outside. I dressed lightly before I left my house, but by the time I made it to Home Plus I was sweating enough to warrant removing my long sleeve shirt. I had a tank top on underneath the long sleeve shirt, and it was a modest tank top so I didn't think it would be a big deal. It's considered sleazy to wear anything that shows cleavage in Korea (even though they wear their shorts as short as possible), but my tank top covered me very well so I wasn't concerned. But everywhere I went Koreans were staring at me (more so than usual). Apparently they either thought I was crazy for wearing so little (they were all still wearing winter coats), or they were appalled at my bare arms, or a little of both (I tend to believe this is more the case). Regardless, it was ridiculous how much extra attention my bare arms gained. And the stares weren't nice looks either...they were more like glares. C'est la vie. I wasn't about to sweat to death to pacify a bunch of grumpy old women (they took the most issue with my exposed arms). Anyway, that is all. I'll write again after the weekend.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bring on the Bull!

This weekend was the big bull fighting festival in Cheongdo, (a little city about 30 mins from Daegu). Angie came up to accompany me to the festival, and even though we initially had a little difficulty finding it, we finally made it to the stadium. Fortunately, it was a relatively inexpensive little adventure. The train only cost 5,000 won for a round trip (less than five bucks), entrance to the stadium was 5,000 won, and the bus to get back was only 1,100 won. Unfortunately, we couldn't find the bus station on the way to the stadium (it looked nothing like a normal bus stop), so we had to take a cab, and the driver took advantage of the fact that we were obviously not from the area. He took us the longest way possible and charged us 13,000 won. Jerk.
Anyway, the festival itself was pretty cool. It was packed, there were all kinds of vendors and entertainers, and there were as many foreigners there as I've ever seen in Korea (with the exception of the MoonKkang foreign teacher Christmas party, perhaps). They had these two human statues outside the stadium, and they were quite convincing. One of them was a bit playful though, and he'd move unexpectedly to freak out people who posed for pictures next to them. Of course, I was no exception. Angie and I stood between them while a Korean took our picture, and the playful statue decided to pull my hair. Cute. And here's a picture of the inside of the stadium, as well.
Watching bull fighting is a bit like watching baseball. You go, chat with the people next to you, vendors walk around trying to sell you beer and snacks, and there's something in the middle to entertain you while you socialize. I found it to be much more interesting to watch if I chose a bull to root for before the fight began. I was almost always wrong, but it made in interesting anyway. Here's a little snippet of what I saw while I was there:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Art, Religion, and Sake

So first of all, I wanted to add a couple pictures from last week's visit to the Busan Museum of Modern Art. And my haircut.

There, now for this weekend. Ted and I visited a number of sites of religious significance around the city. I don't think we planned to make it a religion themed adventure day, but it just so happened that all the things we were interested in seeing were connected somehow to various types of spirituality. Our first stop was a park in downtown Daegu. It had a temple, a number of stone shrine pillar type things, and lots of trees. I took a zillion pictures that I'm rather fond of, but here are just a few:

We also saw a guy walking around the park in his white hospital gown, IV in tow. I really wanted to take a picture, but I couldn't manage to get one without being blatantly obvious and rude. Ted got a picture, but he hasn't sent it to me yet, and I'm too impatient to wait for it, so I'll post it later.
Anyway, our next stop was the Catholic Martyr's Shrine. Apparently, Korea only has one Catholic saint, and this shrine was dedicated to him.
This is a little display inside the shrine museum that shows the type of torture the Korean saint endured. And these are pictures from the top of the shrine:

Our next visit was to a Confucian Academy. They still hold lectures in the lecture hall, and it is often used as a venue for various ceremonies and weddings. It's a place where people can come to learn about/appreciate/worship Confucius and the other sages for their great wisdom.

The last stop was Satgat-bawi (bawi means rock). This rock used to be a very popular place for people to come to pray for luck, health, happiness, etc. Also, barren women used to come to the rock to pray for fertility. I'm not sure how the rock grants that particular wish, but perhaps that's the reason people don't go there much anymore.
We hit up The Holy Grill for dinner again (ooh, the Mac & Cheese), and we met up with a new Korean friend named Jake. Jake invited a couple of his Korean friends, Erica and Ta Hee, so now I have three new Korean friends. They took Ted and me out for sake at a Japanese style restaurant.
We're planning a trip with them to Cheongdo in the near future to watch bullfighting, and as it turns out Erica is a bit of a thrill-seeker as well so she's going to help me look into bungee jumping and paragliding. It figures that I'd start making friends AFTER I decided to leave, but at least I'll have some people to keep me company during my last few weeks. 40 days left!