Because Dinosaurs really are kind of cool

June 6, 2011

I woke up way too early for a Saturday morning. It was drizzly and kind of sad. But I wanted to get out of Seoul for the weekend and a good friend had planned a trip to Goseong to see the dinosaur footprint museum.  It was a 4  hour bus trip, and we would have left around 9 am, except for the unfortunate fact that there weren’t any buses until 4:30.  So we re-convened and discussed our options. We were already at Nambu terminal, at 9 am with a lot of time to kill.  So we started walking and went exploring the Ganam area. It was almost cold and overcast and the area was a bit more quiet than it usually is in the afternoons and evenings, but it was still kind of cool to look around. I usually just go to my knitting group and then leave, so it was nice to see what was there. We stopped for lunch in a nice little Japanese place and ate outside, enjoying the air and watching the people passing by.

We got back to the bus terminal with plenty of time, and tried valiantly to stay awake for the ride. The scenery outside the window was pretty fantastic. The mountains were seriously over-verdanting themselves.  Even in Seoul itself, Korea is very lush in spring and summer.  The trip was the full 4 hours, and we slept through half of it, so when we arrived at 8:30 it was too late to take the one hour bus to the dinosaur museum area. So we walked around the cute little town, got a nice room and walked around some more to get dinner. We ate a little place that had a pork and kimchi dish that was quite tasty.  We went to bed early and got up to take the 8 am bus to the museum.

To be honest, I didn’t have very high expectations.  The museum was built because on the rocky coast paleontologists found footprints of several dinosaurs. And my friend really loves dinosaurs, and why not?  So we get off the bus, and an old guy makes sure we get to the entrance. At the entrance we try to find out when the buses going back would be, and a very kind couple helped us out and suggested we go to Samchun po instead.  So armed with that info and a ticket, we proceeded to the entrance. Right away a woman came up to us with English brochures, and although her English was a bit spotty, her enthusiasm for helping us more than made up for it.

The museum itself is quite small, but the displays were awesomely excellent. There were a lot of signs for no pictures that everyone else ignored, and I found out later that my illegal pictures were quite legal, because they just didn’t want you to use flash.  Anyway. We moved through the museum and enjoyed the displays and then took a quick detour to the movie experience.  In 3D no less.  And it was really cool. The story was cute, and the special effects were surprisingly well done.  They had an interactive area and then we walked out to a dinosaur garden, with lots of well done dinosaur sculptures and a Triceratops that was made to climb, but there were pretty graphic warnings against it. Everyone did obey this one.

After walking through the dinosaur garden, we went to the beach walk.  It wasn’t really a beach but there were some rocky areas that could be walked on, and a wooden walkway around the water and close to the cliffs.  Along the way were some signs about what kinds of rocks and when we finally got to the footprints they were quite visible. We were a bit worried because the website said they sometimes were covered in water.

After walking the wooden path there was a small beach area, but it had a no swimming sign, and it really was a bit cool for a dip.  We then made our way to the bus stop, but after a while we realized that this bus stop may not be the right one, because no buses were coming. So we decided to walk up to the entrance where the adventure all started, but half way there, we saw a cute little restaurant. The people were very friendly, and we were told to wait a bit and the bus to Samchun po would be there shortly. It was, and we almost missed it, because it didn’t stop  for long, but we made it, made it to the terminal, and made it back to Seoul, with enough time to get home by bus and subway.

A truly awesome adventure. Except the sunburn. I could have done without the sunburn.



She’s back!

March 3, 2011

I must admit, February was probably not the best choice for travel. But. With lunar New Year the first week and my vacation days, it seemed to work out perfectly, and I got my tickets before the price went up as well. It seemed like a good plan on paper.

Well. I arrived in Dallas right when one of the worst winter storms hit the south. Dallas really didn’t know how to deal with snow. At all. The airline canceled my flight to St. Lewis, Louis and it was just as well, because my aunt wouldn’t have been able to get there to pick me up. So I thought I’d get a bus to Corpus Cristi and see my sister and my maternal aunts.  The buses at the airport were not running, but there were a few taxis, so I got one to the Dallas greyhound station. What would normally take 20 minutes took 1 and a 1/2 hours.  People were slip sliding away on the road, and I was a bit stressed.  When I got to the station, the clerks informed me that there were no buses leaving Dallas. So I tried to walk to the Amtrak station, to take a train.  I slipped slided away on the sidewalks trying to walk the three blocks to the station. It was pretty harrowing, with the wind and the ice and the fact that nothing was cleared.  Dallas was a ghost town, with only a few cars out, and almost no people.  I crossed a street to get to one hotel near the train station, and called Amtrak and found out the train to San Antonio had already left. So I made a reservation for the next morning and got a room.

The next morning I went across the street to the station, and despite the short distance it was a bit of an adventure, since I didn’t have ice skates, and trying to carry my luggage while sliding across the street was a bit more interesting than I would have liked.  I got to the station only to find out that the train was delayed.  For 5 hours.  Finally I got to San Antonio.  San Antonio was the nearest station to Corpus Cristi, and my hope was to get a bus down there. I thought it would be far enough south, and it wouldn’t be a big problem.  Well.  The buses out of San Antonio weren’t running. They had an inch of snow, and of course, they had to close all the roads, including the interstate. This was the first time I’ve ever heard of an interstate closing. So I got a room, and tried to get a bus the next day. No dice.  San Antonio is a beautiful city, and the river walk would have been fun, if anything had been open. Osco drugstore was open, and two restaurants, but most of the stores were closed, and since it was very cold, I decided not to explore more.

3 days and two “What not to wear” marathons later, I called my sister and told her, I would not be coming to Corpus Cristi this time.  She was a bit upset, but in the end, since there were no buses out, and the train only went north, she forgave me.  So I took a train to St. Lewis, Louis and then to Springfield to see my paternal aunts and uncles.  5 days after I landed in the US, I finally got to see some family.  Chili was waiting for me.  I did do some other things beside eat, but really, most of my holiday was spent eating, doing puzzles, and talking.

I did do one exciting thing. I went to a hockey game. The St. Lewis Louis Blues vs. The Anaheim Ducks.   Of course we were rooting for the Blues. And. WE WON, 9-3.  It was an exciting game. I kind of like hockey. The game is fairly simple and easy to follow, but it is fast and has a lot going on.  ( I didn’t like the fights, but if the players, the refs, and the fans like it, who am I to judge)

I’m not sure what is going on here, but it was fun.

My cousin Raymond, who brought me to the hockey game, also created a monster.  He brought Yahtzee to my aunt’s house. We played quite often.  I also shopped, and ate, and caught up with everyone. We even baked zucchini bread for the teachers here.

It was good to see everyone, and I’m just sorry I didn’t see my sister or my other aunts. (and I’m very sorry I didn’t get to eat any gumbo, because all of my aunts, maternal and paternal, are very good cooks.- I’m not sure what happened to me- I’m an aunt now, and I think that should bring some kind of magical cooking ability, but sadly, no.)

And now I’m back, the first day of classes went well, and I’ve almost finished unpacking.

a picture of snow from my aunts porch for your enjoyment

* Yes I do feel like an idiot for misspelling St. Louis three times.


September 24, 2010

Chuseok has been described as the Korean Thanksgiving, and it is a pretty accurate analogy.  It is in the fall, everyone goes home to eat lots and lots of food, and every housewife goes, “Holiday? What holiday? I’ve been cooking and cleaning since 6 am”

Our school has a very long holiday, but I didn’t have many plans, only two big ones. Tuesday I was going to take a long bike ride with my co-teacher, and spend the night, and then on Wednesday go with her to see her family for an official Chuseok. She had even planned for a cool night-time outdoor concert.  Well.  Monday night it was raining and I thought, cool.. it will be nice for our bike ride. Ha. Tuesday it rained in torrents and deluges. I came down in sheets. Cats and dogs were drowned.  So I went to my co-teacher’s house and we ate in, and watched some movies on TV.

Wednesday was quite nice, but cloudy.  We woke up and went to her brother’s apartment. He lives quite close to her, and I thought that is so nice. Her family is very nice, and her father is very kind. He was very concerned that I would be able to eat all the food (it was no problem)

Early we first attended a ceremony to honor her family’s ancestors. First they set a special table, with offerings of all kinds of food. Rice, tea, and vegetables, soup, meat and fruit. The lit incense and my co-teacher’s brothers and father bowed to each of their ancestors. Then they “fed” the ancestors by giving them rice in a bowl of water.

After, her nephews decided I was the designated story reader. I had offered at first to do my part to help by keeping the boys busy instead of tearing around making lots of noise.  Instead I created a story devouring monster. I don’t feel too terrible about that.

After the ceremony everyone gathered to eat, and it was awesome. Her family is not only extraordinarily kind, but awesome cooks as well. It was perhaps the best kimchi I’ve had.

When you go to your family’s house on Chuseok you should bring a gift. My co-teacher brought gift fish, but the one thing that I think is a bit weird, is the gift Spam. Yes, that Spam, the canned meat that only Hawaiians love more.

Afterwards I went home, and had planned on going to my friend’s house to pick up my sewing machine that is languishing in her living-room. But she was feeling a bit sick and I felt tired, plus I had a big day on Thursday.

Thursday I did something that I think I’ve obviously lost my mind to sign up for.  I joined a rock  climbing school for one of their beginner’s group trips.  There were five of us, a German couple, who had some experience and an American who had done the indoor climbing and another American who had experience in the States. And me. Who was woefully out of shape for the ordeal.  I felt kind of bad because just getting up to the climb site made me out of breath. I think I seriously worried one of the young climbers.  But the leaders were very patient, and kept telling me to take it easy and go at my own pace.

Eventually we got to the climb site, and the leaders went up and got the ropes to the rivets and anchors in the rock.  Then they gave us a fairly intense safety lecture and showed us how to get our belay set up and the harnesses and how to tie the ropes. They were very concerned with safety and checking and double checking everything.  That made me feel pretty good about the whole thing.

Then we all got a chance to climb up.  Most of the others got to the rivets and anchors, I only got half-way up, and I did learn how to be a good belay partner.

It was so awesome! (although quite exhausting)

A Critical Mass that never was, and a hop on an island

August 23, 2010

It has not been a relaxing quiet weekend. However, it has been a lot of fun, and a pretty nice adventure.

Friday night was bitter-sweet, in that two very cool ladies are leaving Korea.  They want to get “real” teaching certificates, and to be honest, I think they both will make awesome teachers. I am sad they are leaving, proud of them for their ambitions, and I am optimistic that I will see them again as we travel through life. You never really know how the road will twist and turn.

Saturday was supposed to be a Critical Mass. Critical Mass started as a protest in some cities, to gently let cars and buses and trucks and motorcycles that there are bicycles as well that would like to share the road.

I was excited, and hoped to meet some other cyclist that were like me.  I know I do take some long bike trips, so a lot of people think I am fit and athletic. This is not really true. I am old and fat, and I prefer a more leisurely pace. I’m really not that fit.  A friend from a smaller town also wanted to go. So I borrowed a bike from my co-teacher, and off we went to find critical mass.  Now, we could have cycled there, but she arrived a bit late for that, plus we wanted to save our energy for the event. So we took the subway.  Last year it was illegal to take a bicycle on the subway, but now it is OK on Sundays and Holidays. Fortunately this means it is also OK on Saturday.  I know this, because the subway agent/ helper/ officer type people watched us and said nothing. Plus the first and last cars all have the international bicycle sign.

Taking a bike on the subway is usually pretty easy, but my friend wanted to take the elevators the whole time, so sometimes it got to be rather maze like in the station looking for an elevator to the correct subway platform. Fortunately we are intrepid. So finally we get to Gwanghwamun, where the mass was supposed to start. We wandered around, only 5 minutes late (and really for an event like that, it shouldn’t be a big problem) we couldn’t find it. We met two other cyclist, and they were looking for the event as well. So we wandered around some more but couldn’t find anything remotely like a mass group of cyclists getting ready to share the road with a bunch of cars.  So we had to make a decision.

We decided to cycle along the Cheonggyecheon, until it goes into the Han. It was beautiful, and for the most part very easy with little traffic.  Only one area, near Dongdaemun, had a lot of traffic. One of the things I love about cycling in Seoul is that cars here give cyclists a lot of room, and tend to slow down when they pass you. They don’t seem particularly upset that you are there sharing the road with them.  In the U.S. some drivers seem downright offended that a bicycle is on the same road as they are.  So it was a really nice ride, and we made it home in time to shower and get dinner before we were off to Incheon.  We met some friends at the Seoul train station and then took the bus into Incheon.

The next morning we were up early and off to go to Sin, Si and Mo islands.  We took the subway to the end of the line, near the airport. Then hopped into a taxi, that actually cost less per person than the bus would have ( there were six of us total).   We then got to the ferry right on time and made it within a minute of it leaving.  Once we got on the island we rented some bikes and went to the set of two Korean TV shows, a beautiful beach, and a beach with one of the more interesting sculpture parks around.

When we got hungry we went in search of a meal, but the one restaurant we thought would be good was closed, so we asked around and found another. It was well worth the wait. We had a kind of noodle soup that included clams and they had one of the best potato salads I’ve ever had. ( it included corn and raisins, a combination I wouldn’t have thought could taste so good)– after our repast we cycled some more, then turned in our bikes. We caught the next to last ferry, and headed home.

I arrived back at my house quite late and very tired, but in a good way.  I was even able to wake up in time for our first day of the semester.

To celebrate my most excellent weekend, I decided to skip Korean class, and eat chocolate cookies for dinner. (don’t worry, I’ll eat something healthy tomorrow– maybe)

On saying good-bye

August 10, 2010

Almost all of the foreign teachers here are on one year contracts. Many of the people I came here with are not renewing their contracts so they will be leaving this week and next week for home or other adventures.

Some of the people I met in orientation became very good friends, some only bright spots in the periphery of my life.  My life is richer for having met them, and even though some I only saw a few times, I will treasure the memories I have of them.

This is one of the downsides to a life of travel and adventure. You meet some wonderful people, share wonderful times with them, and always, eventually, you have to let them go as you and they part ways on your own adventures elsewhere.

I have always been very good about staying in touch with most people. Facebook and e-mail has made it easier to stay in contact with people through time and space, no matter how many times they change their physical address.  Even knowing this though, it is sad to say good-bye.

I’m always a bit surprised when it is time to say good-bye, even though with everyone I meet, foreign or native, the good-bye is eventual. It is part of the price paid for this life, these adventures.

I pay it willingly, yet the sadness doesn’t abate.

I wish all those I will not see again for a long while a safe journey to their destination, much love, laughter and happiness wherever they may find themselves and I hope that we may meet again, to recount our tales of the trail.

Good-bye my new friends, and may you be counted as my old friends as the years go by.


August 4, 2010

It was supposed to start on Thursday night.   But after getting home from work, and getting something to eat, and then it started to get dark, and I thought I could start on Friday.  I woke up late on Friday morning feeling extremely  totally completely unambitious.   In my defense, I did just finish writing a workbook for the entire year, plus two weeks of summer camp materials, plus teaching summer camp. Plus I’m semi-pathetic.

Saturday I woke up feeling full of vim and vigor, or as my dad would say, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  I took my bike on the subway, but decided at Kongik university station, that I really didn’t want to transfer, and rode my bike to DongSeoul station.  I got a ticket to Asan, where my journey began.

Part of me felt is was cheating to take a bus to Asan, but then getting in or out of a major city like Seoul on a bike can be a bit, shall we say, interesting.  I chose Asan because it was right on the road I wanted to get on.  So when I arrived in Asan, I started on the road. I felt pretty good. Until the first hill.

I ran into a small little town called Sillyeon. Yes. That was the name, and I wanted to stay in a town with silly in its name, but unfortunately there wasn’t a hotel or motel, and the one yagkwaon looked a bit more than just dicey.  So I continued to Yesan.

I thought getting to Yesan by 4 was pretty good considering it was my first day on the bike. I got a little hotel that had some pretty Bates-ish tendencies, as well as a whole lot of mirrors and  a mural of a naked woman in the shower.  I didn’t sleep well at all.

The road to Hongseong was mostly flat, although there wasn’t any water to be seen yet.  I stopped at a rather nice little rest stop and met up with a group of Korean cyclists going in the opposite direction. They were on their way back to Seoul and I stopped for a bit longer than I had originally planned (not that I had much of a plan) and shared  a brunch like repast and some tales of the road.

Just out of Hongseong I met up with 4 young Korean guys who were headed to Boreyeong as well as I was.  They kidnapped me in a really sweet and adorable way.  I told them they didn’t have to slow down for me, because I was after all, old and out of shape.  They assured me, quite often that they wanted to go very slow as well.  So slow and steady we went up hills and down hills.  They nagged me to put on more sunscreen, and they stopped very often and went very slow.  I felt kind of bad, but they assured me that they weren’t going slow for me, but instead, because their bikes weren’t good quality and one of them had a sore leg.  They worried I was working to hard, and in general took very good care of me all the way to Boreyeong.

It was really beautiful. But. The sun was brutal.  I mean brutal. The road was up hill, both ways and I realized that I really was out of shape. I was so unprepared. The 4 young men were taking a trip before going into the army. They wanted to make sure I knew they were not high school students, and to be honest, they were very kind and so good to me.  It was kind of fun to be kidnapped by such nice young men.   When we got to Boreyong, I wanted to get a room and stop for the day, even though it was still kind of early. As I said, the sun was brutal and I was out of shape. They wanted to go to Dacheon beach and I assume whoop it up before going into the army next week. At the cross roads they shook my hand and. Zoom. They were off.

The hotel I got was a bit more expensive than I wanted but was very nice. There was a view of the river and an absence of naked women murals in the shower.  Once I checked in, I took a short walk. The downtown area was empty in the heat, so I bought some bread and a couple of cold drinks and headed back to the hotel. I was only going to lie down for a couple of hours, until the worst of the heat had passed.  I woke up at 1:30 am.  I decided that even though I was a bit peckish, I could wait until morning.

By 7 am, I was ready to go.  I thought for a few minutes about staying in Boreyong for the day, but since I had some vim and a little a bit of vigor, I decide to make a go of it.

It was misty and almost rainy, and a few times on the down hill it was cold. The road was winding and mostly flat, at least for the first little bit.  There were trees and lakes, and lots and lots of green fields and beautiful little farms, and some of my favorite roadside flowers.   I made really good time, without a relentless sun hounding me or the draining heat ( a few time I even felt almost cold going down hill).  At first I wanted to go to Janghang, but when I got there, I realized that Gunsan was only 10 more kilometers away.  The road there was beautiful, with a sea wall that came almost up to the road itself. There were some interesting restaurant/bar/hotels up near the ocean, and the bridge was fantastic. The tide was out, so I saw ghostly ships stranded in the mudflats.  The road from Boreyeong to Gunsan was the best part of the trip.

In Gunsan, the hotel I stopped at was apparently not in the cool, interesting part of town. It was directly on the road I wanted to go on in the morning, but there was a dearth of restaurants, or small shops.  I did find a place that had galbi  with a sweet mustard sauce and some of the best kimchi I’ve had in Korea (and that is saying something).    I walked around a little, but there really wasn’t much to see in that part of the city.  I have a feeling the central part would be quite interesting.  I found a 7-11 and got a coffee and read my book.

From Gunsan I went to Ilksan. At first I was going to stop in Ilksan, but since it was only 9am, I thought maybe I should keep going. The only problem was, as I was eating some noodles for breakfast, was that I was tired. And my shoulders hurt from my back pack. And my face was starting to get burned (despite using lots and lots of sunscreen – I’ve decided that Neutrogena Ultra Sheer sunblock is almost useless).  So from Ilksan I went down south to Gimje, and then to Buan.  In Buan I really wanted to quit. I know that I had originally decided to go until Wednesday, and it was only Tuesday afternoon, but…. sometimes it is best to quit while you are ahead. (hence the semi- part of semi-epic).  Buan was a nice little town. It even had a whale fountain.  But it was still a bit to early and the road to Jeong eup was calling me.  I am really glad I did.

On the road I passed one of the nicest very small town. It had tree and flower lined streets from the start of the town to the highway.  And on the way to Jeong eup I ran into a couple who were biking to the bus station there too. We met up a few times and passed each other a few times, then at the end of the road we rode together to the bus terminal. I was kind of glad they took me along, because I would have gotten very lost.

Between their poor English and my worse Korean we did manage to communicate a bit, and I learned that they often took days off, and would take a bus to one town, then ride their bikes to another town, then take a bus back home.  It gave me ideas.

Here are some more photos of the road:

I wanted to get some pictures of the cranes and egrets that hung out in the rice paddies, but they were not co-operative. As soon as I stopped to take a photo they would swoop up and gracefully fly away before I could get my camera out.  They were kind of cool.

I got into Seoul at 10pm on Tuesday, and I’m going to call it a great trip.

The grindstone

March 3, 2010

Well, I made it back in one piece.  The plane was diverted to Gimpo Airport due to fog and rain and general bad conditions.  I went from sunshine to sleet. Sigh.

I unpacked, did laundry, and started making plans to meet up with everyone, and wrote my lesson plans for the next month.  I was thinking that I had to turn them in on Tuesday, my first day back.  Well, I don’t have to turn them in until March 9, and that actually might be a good thing, as I think I’m going to have to change some things. I also found out that I could make my own text book for next year (Jan) if I turn it in by December.  I wanted to make one for winter camp, but it was too expensive so this year they asked if I wanted to do so for the regular classes.  I’m pretty happy, although it is a bit of extra work.  I also can assume that they will want me to renew my contract.

I felt a bit down, getting back to the work-a-day schedule and getting up early, and going in to work.  It is that whole post vacation let down.  Plus everything in the teacher’s lounge is confusion. I didn’t know where my new desk was, and when I finally got it, the computer wasn’t formatted.  My I.T. hero was very busy, because all the computers were being re-formatted. ( I couldn’t feel bad about the  chaos, since everyone was going through the same thing)  They had gotten me a new English version, but it isn’t compatible with some of the Korean programs so I had to have the computer re-re-formatted. Sigh. I can’t really complain, because the problem was trying to get something that would work to make me more comfortable. I just felt bad for Mr. I.T. Hero.  In the end he came through. I still say everyone needs an I.T. Hero.

So, confusion, chaos, and clouds.  Not an auspicious start to the new semester.  Yet when I opened the door to my first class, I was greeted by applause and shouts. My students said “Teacher, you look beautiful” and I felt much, much better.  That is why I love my job. No matter what is happening, my students will always find a way to make me smile.

I guess I should give a run down on the awesomeness that is K. L.

This is one of the statues in Little India.  I always love little India, because of the smell of spices and incense that permeate everything and all the colors and sounds.  Bollywood soundtracks competing with horns and shouts and conversations. It is always a dynamic and beautiful place.

Chinatown is also awesome in its own way (and the roast duck is to die for…mmm)- I like red, and China town was awash in the color from the red bobbles and lanterns hanging down, to the fresh red paint on all the doors for the new year.

But what is most wonderful about K.L. is the contrasts.  Here you see a colonial style mosque in the foreground with steel and glass skyscrapers in the background.

And here is the butterfly that beat me up.  Yes that is right. A butterfly, one of the most un-fierce creatures on the planet.  Smacked me right upside my head.