Ahhhhhhhh, lazy weekend!

May 31, 2010

Thursday I joined a gym in my neighborhood. I thought I was in pretty good shape, after all I do ride my bike a lot.  Thought I was in good shape is not the same as being in good shape.  I was ok Thursday night.  I actually felt very good.  Friday morning wasn’t too bad either.  As Friday progressed, things changed.  I realized that I wasn’t in very good shape at all.  By the time I got home from school everything ached.

Needless to say, I didn’t go out Friday night.  Actually I was kind of glad for the excuse.  I really didn’t want to deal with anyone.  I know that isolation is bad for one’s mental health, but really I didn’t want to deal with anyone.

Saturday morning I woke up, not really achy but not really feeling full of vim and vigor.  But.  I had the day already planned and the appointments already made.  The morning I had a hair appointment where they did a scalp treatment that felt a bit like liquid arctic  ice, and then got a hair cut in celebration of summer and my more active lifestyle.   Then I bounced down to the facial shop, where I fell asleep as the woman was massaging and treating my face.  I woke up, and went to the manicure shop, and got a manicure.  I then went home.

I did not leave my home after that.  It felt so good to do nothing .  I had planned to go on a hike on Sunday with one of the hiking groups I joined on facebook. They usually go to major mountains or outside of Seoul, but Sunday they had planned on a city hike.  I thought seriously about it, but then changed my mind and took a long bike ride instead.

Don’t worry my burrowing instinct isn’t very strong, and I already have plans for next Saturday. Pictures will ensue.


Haesingdang shrine (or a park for penises) Some photos might not be safe for work

May 25, 2010

Friday was a 3 day weekend here in Korea.  It was Buddha’s birthday, and so 3 friends and I decided to be intrepid and explore Haesingdang park.  The park is famous for giant stone and wood phallic statutes.  Here in Korea it is a family park.

We met up near Hapjeong because that was on line two of the subway, and the bus station was on line two so it seemed like a good place to gather.  One of the things I love about Korea is the ease of getting around. Even on a national holiday, you seldom need tickets to the bus or train in advance. Usually you just go up to the counter, get a ticket for the next bus and you are good to go.   We lucked out, and were able to get the bus that was leaving in 15 minutes.  We also lucked out in getting the last 3 seats.  ( my other friend was going to meet us there)

Now it was a major holiday, so traffic getting out of Seoul was a bit hairy.   We were alright, talking and napping, napping and talking.. until, about 3 hours into a trip that should have only taken three hours, we started to feel a bit, how shall I say, antsy? – We saw one rest stop. Good. We passed one rest stop without stopping. Not so good.  We saw another rest stop.  We passed that rest stop too.  I am in pain by now.  So I go up to the bus driver.  He asks if I want air conditioning.  I say no, I want the rest room.  He says 20 minutes.  I say, not good.  He then stops at a rest stop at one of the toll roads.  Every woman on the bus thanks me.

Haesingdang park is in Samcheok, a small city on the east coast. Usually it takes 3 hours.  I estimated with holiday traffic it would take about 4 hours.  5 hours later, we were in Samcheok bus station. What we didn’t know was that there were two bus stations. We arrived in one, and my friend arrived in another.    Fortunately Samcheok is a small town, so the other bus station  was only around the corner.  We made introductions and decided upon a plan.  The plan was to find a hotel and then get something to eat.

We found a cute little hotel, then walked around the town. There was a beautiful small park, sculpture and a fountain that wasn’t turned on, and I thought looked beautiful in a ghostly/ industrial way.  We stumbled onto a restaurant where everyone was eating outside. The food was outstanding.  We had dweage galbi and barbecued beef. The kitchen played cheesy 70’s songs, we laughed and ate. Then walked around the town a bit more.

The next morning, we got up, and went to the park.  We took a city bus there, and the route was gorgeous. There were beaches, and bays and fishing villages all along a winding road up and down a lush mountain. The weather was perfect. Cloudy, cool and with a soft breeze from the ocean.

Once we arrived, we got tickets and picked up a flyer with the story of the park. It goes like this:

Once upon a time, in a coastal village there lived a beautiful girl who used to gather seaweed. In the distance there was a rock called Aebawi where plenty of seaweed grew.  One day, this young girl was taken out to the rock by a man in a boat.  The man, who had a pact to marry her, promised to return to the rock to pick her up after she had collected seaweed there and he went back to the village.  At dusk, she waited for the man to come and take her home, but he was unable to come and fetch her due to wild waves.  That very night a terrible storm arose and a large wave struck the rock, drowning the ill-fated girl. From the time of her death, the fishing catches turned bad for the village and so a rumor started circulating among the villagers that is was due to the dead girl’s bitter soul.  Finally the people of the village decided to offer carved wooden phallic statues as a sacrifice inside Haesingdang to console the bitter soul of an unmarried girl.  Mysteriously, after that, the village again enjoyed a good catch.

A village carving giant penises for me would console my bitter soul too.   The thing that most impressed me about the park, besides the obvious, was how beautiful all the walkways and trails were.  Even if the reason for going were removed, the park itself would be well worth the visit.  I was surprised at how many families with children were there (although here in Asia, giant penises are more likely to be out and about than in America).

I  chose my travel companions well. We walked along together, then would split up and walk and explore alone, then meet up again and walk along for a while.  It was peaceful there, by the sea. And I said the park itself was quite beautiful. Jasmine was in bloom and as we walked along the paths and near the rocky coast the sweet heady and heavy scent followed and enveloped us.

Here are some more pictures of the wonderful trip: These are from the small park in downtown Samcheok

Some of the park itself:

And for Raymond:

I’m a bit worried

May 20, 2010

I am a bit worried. My grandmother is in hospital today.  She is on oxygen and so far they can’t figure out exactly what is wrong with her.  She is over 90, and my uncle says she is ready to go. She has outlived all her siblings, her husband and two of her children.  I don’t want her to suffer, and if she is ready, I would wish her god-speed. However, I am selfish and am hoping that she will make it until August and I can see her before she goes.  I know that death is inevitable, for every one of us.  But I do like knowing she is around.

It is frustrating because I am so far away.

Bits and pieces

May 17, 2010

Friday was our schools sports day.  Sports day is a day when all the classes get outside and compete with each other in various sports. To make sure everyone gets a chance to play they have  lots of sports. One of my classes won in volleyball, and another won doing an all class jump rope competition.  Imagine if you will 40 students, one very long rope, and two people trying to get the rope up and over 40 students who are trying to jump in sync.   Fun was had all around.  At least I had a good time.  The highlight was when several of the male teachers did a dance routine to a 2PM song. 2PM is one of the more popular pop bands in Korea.  The students went wild. I have to say quite a few were pretty darn good dancers.

The students now have the summer uniforms.  The winter uniform is very similar to a Catholic school uniform. It is quite nice.  I have mixed feelings about the summer uniforms. The students like them because they are all one piece. They are not really denim, but they are blue, with cute little buttons on the shoulders.  However, the first time I saw them,  I thought of women’s jail uniforms.  I know I’m so bad, and my school spirit is so lacking.  I’m getting used to them though. And I like how many of the students dress them up a bit. (although many of the more conservative teachers don’t appreciate it as much)

We are writing poems now in class.  I’ve found a form that leads the students through different comparisons and they make their poems from that.  You are (food)- You are (weather) You are (a color) etc.  The students seem to like it, and I’m hoping it will unleash some of their creativity.   I get a little frustrated with some of my fellow foreign teachers they like to rant that Korean students don’t have any creativity.  That is so untrue. They express their creativity in ways that are different from what you are expecting (which makes it a lack of creativity on their part, no?).  It is true, the education system here does put a lot of emphasis on testing. This goes way back to ancient China and the imperial exams.  But it is not true that our students are not creative.  I can see it in the small ways they alter their uniforms, the small decorations in their hair, in the drawings they create, and in the poems they write.   They come up with some very beautiful metaphors and expressions. And that is very creative.

Spring is definitely here.  I love my neighborhood, mostly because there are some very beautiful places to walk around.  Near my apartment is a river walk/bike ride way.  This weekend I didn’t ride my bike much, but I did take a long walk along the river.  I love my bike, but sometimes I really like the slower pace of being a pedestrian.  When you are walking you notice so much more. The yellow flowers that poke up from a stone, the egrets standing elegantly among the rapids, the fish getting freaky in the shallows, the dragonflies, the white butterfly that flutters along the now dark green bank.  Even beside the expressway, cutting a path trough the stone and glass high-rises, life is still  always life. And life is always good.

And life goes on

May 12, 2010

I am agnostic about Itaewon.  A lot of foreigners like it there because it is the foreigner district. But I’ve found a lot of non-Korean food in many other districts – and I love the Ehwa, Sincheon, and Hongdae area and Gwangwhamun area. But. Today I lucked out in Itaewon. I went to meet a friend for dinner and I found a map.  I know, not very exciting to YOU, but  to me it was because this map had the streets and the subway stops.  This is important because I had a street map of Seoul, and a subway map of Seoul, but no real way to put the two together to plan my bike trips.  Google has  a bike trip planner – or so they say – but either it doesn’t work well, or my tech-tard tendencies interfere with a good plan.  Now that I have this map, I can eschew the subway and bike to where I want to go.  Well, maybe not everywhere, but enough places to make it worth while.  I am so excited. I am going to plan out a trip for tomorrow evening. Woot.

And now for bad news. I’m still smoking. I feel like hell about it. I tried the patch. I got a rash (and I’m usually not allergic to anything) I tried the anti-depressant (a friend said that she quit smoking without even wanting to) I now listen to self hypnosis cds. Two of them. In the book  a man apparently quit by listening to the tapes being made. He didn’t even want to quit.  I have a book on Yoga exercises. I thought that would help me to relax. In the book, the author says don’t worry. Most of the people who do yoga quit smoking without even trying.  Every time I hear this I want to cry.  I know they are selling their program but it is so frustrating.  How do people quit? I know I’m not weak.  When I turned 40 I cycled (as in bicycle, the kind you pedal, not the kind that makes a lot of noise) from Suzhou, China to Singapore.  It took me six months and I went through Hong-Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia. When I was 28 I had to return to Missouri broken-hearted and flat broke.  (It is a long story, but the gist of it is that I met a Japanese juggler who told me that he loved me and wanted to travel the world with me as an “educated bum”- He dumped me in Osaka.) That is when I decided to get educated for real. I went back to school and got my degree. It wasn’t that easy, although I did love being in school then.  I came to Asia, and paid off my student loan debt in 5 years instead of 10.  I am not a weak woman.  I know this.

At least the weather is beautiful for long bike rides and long walks. – Oh and my students are having sports day on Friday.  I will be rooting for everybody.

Out and about

May 9, 2010

Friday evening was gorgeous. Perfect weather and flowers blooming. But. I felt under such gorgeous weather.  Sigh. So I went home read a bit and went to bed very early.  I woke up Saturday feeling much, much better.

So I met up with two friends to explore Namdaemun.   It is one of the big outdoor/indoor markets in Korea.  We went mostly to find craft items.  Normally when I think of crafty things- like crochet, knitting and quilting I think about back home and back where my grandmother lives. I come from the mid-west, home to the crafts superstores.  You know the store, with yarn, needles, swathes of cloth, silk flowers, and various miscellaneous odds and ends.  Let me tell you- they have nothing compared to Namdaemun.  It was crafters’ paradise.  I bought two different kinds of yarn (I crochet fairly well, or at least I used to, and technically I know how to knit, and I do sew as well. I know so domestic!)- for several projects I have in mind. One, if it works out well, is going to be an awesome sweater.  If it works out well.

Namdaemun, like most markets in Korea is quite the warren of little shops and stalls, selling whatever it is you are looking for. Unfortunately it is usually a treasure hunt. Imagine if you will a largish space, with tons of small stalls selling similar things. And you want one particular thing.  What we wanted was some thick ply yarn that wasn’t outrageously expensive. What we found was tons of shops that sold needles, patterns, finished knitted wear, traditional hanbok material, thin ply yarn, modified and modernized traditional clothing, curtains, and silk flowers.   One of my friends was, I think, a bit disappointed in the shopping, I think she wanted to buy clothes and shoes.  So we left the warren and got coffee, then she decided to go home.  We stuck it out a bit longer and were rewarded with several shops that sold what we were looking for.  We bought that, and I wanted to find something I had seen earlier.  This was a bit of a mistake.  I know rationally that there aren’t really any alternate dimensions that shops and stalls pop in and out of, but I think it is a good theory to work with when shopping at traditional markets here in Asia.

After I gave up we decided to see if the dinosaur museum  at Ehwa university was open and worth looking at.  So we got a bit lost in the campus area.  Ehwa campus is a very nice campus to get lost in. Lots of green space, and flowering trees and some gorgeous buildings. Eventually we did find the Natural history museum, with the help of a student. Although it only had a few bones of dinosaurs, it was still pretty cool.  There was an awesome insect display, and some great dioramas and I liked that they showed the “cute” animals had claws and teeth.

After a day spent shopping and wandering lost and wandering through the museum (that stayed open past closing time) we decided that desert was in order.  So we went to one of the wonderful chocolate cafes near the gate, and I had a chocolate cake that I’m sure qualifies as the 8th sin.  We then wandered around the Ehwa university district and I’ve decided that it is my new favorite locale in Seoul.

Sunday (today) was also very beautiful. So I took the bike out for a ride.  I was a bit worried. I’ve been meaning to go out for a  while, but I thought the tires would be soft and the gears would need work, but I needn’t have worried at all. It was fine, rode smooth as silk and I remembered just why I love riding.  There is something deeply relaxing and exhilarating about pedaling down the road.  I am lucky, my neighborhood has a great riverfront exercise/bike / running trail.  I often walk along, but riding was excellent.

After my ride I did make some coffee and invited a friend to help me clean out the closet. I really need another person there, because I usually just re-fold everything.  It may be ratty, it may have  too tight 20 pounds ago, but dammit I might want to wear it when I lose 30 pounds or when it comes back in style, or I could fix it, and it doesn’t matter that I don’t have any thing to wear with it. I want to keep it.  Throwing clothes away is a bit traumatic for me.

I am so happy it is spring.

Some photos from being out and about.


May 7, 2010

I’ve been very busy… and so I’ve let my health run down a bit.

May 5th was Children’s day here in Korea, so I met a friend for lunch and watched children play in a fountain.

Today was exquisitely beautiful, and of course I’m sick.  I’ve caught some kind of cold.  Last night I felt tired and worn down, and today I barely got through my classes.  My throat feels scratchy and I feel yucky.

Pray I feel better tomorrow. I’m meeting someone at Dongdaemun and it is lovely out….