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)



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.

It was a dark and stormy night….

July 19, 2010

Suddenly there was a werewolf. I was feared.

I love the way my students think.  I don’t want to correct “I was feared” – doesn’t that sound awesome.  It makes a certain kind of sense.  Of course on the “Mistakes were made” board, I will have to put it up, but I just love some of the “bad” English my students come up with.

It’s our first day of summer camp, and the theme is mystery.  I named my camp “Summer Camp: It’s murder”.  One of the tasks is a write around.  I gave the students a prompt (It was a dark and stormy night – even if they don’t get the joke, I sometimes amuse myself with lesson plans) They had 5 minutes to write, then they had to pass along the story they started and finish the story someone else started. We went around 3 times.  I wanted to go more times around, but we had a new student.  I have 9 students in the class now, and 8 of them are intermediate. They are also very keen to learn English. Two of them came up to me and asked for extra writing practice because they were “weak at writing”.

The new girl wasn’t someone I have had before, and she is very basic.  I watched her as the other students were writing, trying to find a place to set her eyes.  She couldn’t do many of the basic things we were doing in class. She couldn’t ask a single yes/no question for the 5 minute mystery, she couldn’t answer any of my questions.   My heart broke a little.  I could imagine how it must feel, everyone knowing what to do, how to do it, where to go… it hurts.  I can’t simplify the class too much for her, because she is only one student, and I’ve already promised a tough yet interesting and fun camp to the other students.

So I did what I thought was best, I took her to the Korean teacher.  I really felt bad, when I suggested we go together she almost started crying.  I had one of the other students translate, I wasn’t angry, I just needed the Korean teacher to translate for me.  All three of us agreed she didn’t belong in the class, but it still felt bad.  The good news is that the other students did awesome.  I think the camp is going to be a lot of fun.

Saturday was a dark and stormy day.  I had plans to go to Nami Island. It is a day trip from Seoul, and I was going to meet a good friend. But. It rained. It rained Friday night, and Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon, and Saturday night.  It was depressing.   Then Sunday morning, the sun came out.  My bicycle called my name.  I took it out to the river and had a leisurely ride. The flowers were fantastic. Hibiscus blooms as big as my hand, a flock of butterflies lighted and fluttered around a patch of lavender, black-eyed susans bobbed in the breeze, cosmos, daisies and a few flowers I don’t know the names of were all showing off.  There were even a couple of irises that were tenaciously holding on to their beauty despite the heat and a recent raindrop beat-down.

I didn’t see any werewolves though. At least not that I know of.

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:

Jinhae Cherry Blossoms

April 4, 2010

6:30 a.m. and the foreign, barbarian hordes descended upon Seoul station. It was a rather drowsy horde, but we gathered nonetheless.  Introductions were made, and coffee was consumed. We marched onto the platform and because we were a fairly large horde, we had a whole train car all to ourselves.  Everyone settled in and we were off to Jinhae, a small town on the east coast, 5 hours away. The sun was kind enough to come out, and everyone was in high spirits despite the early hour.

The train chugged along, and I looked out my window and watched the world go by.  The ground started off in shades of brown, tan and black.  There were hints of green, that turned into whispers, then murmurs. An exclamation of yellow or purple flowers would punctuate the landscape as we moved further south.   The river’s black water reflected the sky and flowed past the memory of ice.

We arrived in the station, gathered to get directions and times of meetings, then the barbarians dispersed for lunch.  The big parade and main festivities were canceled because a navy ship had gone down last week.  No one is really sure what exactly happened, but it lent a somber air to the festival, although the blossoms still managed to show beauty in the face of all.

I walked around and seriously contemplated eating  roast pig, but since it was very overpriced, decided upon a street food munch along.  There were little tents and stalls set up along the main road, selling everything from cotton candy, coconuts, kebab, and corn dogs.  Vegetarians had a bit of a dearth of options, but us meat eaters were pretty well catered to.

After we gathered the horde again to go see the turtle boat.  I don’t think it was the original turtle boat of Admiral  Yi, but it was an excellent reproduction.  ( Admiral Yi Sun-sin is one of the great heroes in Korean history– He was one of the greatest naval tactician that ever lived, and created a fleet of  the turtle boat, an iron clad flat-bottomed boat that does indeed resemble the turtle it was named after. The boat was used to repel the Japanese navy in the late 1500s )

After the trip to the sea and the tour of the turtle boat, we climbed thousands, no, millions, well not really that many, but sure felt like it, stairs to go to the top of a mountain to see the town.  I think I would have been better off to have stayed down, as I didn’t see anything spectacular on top, and I realized that I am indeed out of shape.  After the climb, the horde gathered again to go to the romance bridge.  It was kind of romantic, and is famous because it was used to film several romantic films and tv shows.  It was indeed beautiful, and the blossoms strained to bloom over the small creek running past.

All in all a beautiful day.

More photos

Why I love Seoul revisited.

March 14, 2010

I love living in Seoul. The city is easy to get around in, you can find something to do almost every day, and when you want to get out  of the city it is easy to do.

So today,  I went with a group to go to Heri, an artist village near Paju. It is north of Seoul, but it only took 45 minutes from the meeting place. There was a city bus, so it wasn’t expensive, nor difficult.  The ride reminded me a bit of high school field trips, even though most of the people didn’t know each other.  I found the group online, from, and this was the first time I tried one of the field trips.  I had a pretty good time. (at least until it rained.)

To live in Heri, you have to be an artist. And you can’t paint your house, so many of the houses are made of dyed concrete. No two houses look the same, and every other place was a gallery or cafe.  They had a jazz museum, a fabric museum (with a quilt cafe attached) more cafes than I could visit – even a chocolate cafe – and the chocolate there was heaven.– I quite liked the political museum, with campaign posters, buttons, and little toys; I quite liked the President Clinton cork screw.

My favorite was the musical instruments museum. It was interactive. Plus there were instruments from all over the world.  We wandered from cafe to museum, on roads that wandered as we did.  One of the roads was built to follow the way rain ran down the mountain, so it wended and curved around the incline.

It was a real village, with a shopping center that included Ikea furniture, but that is ok, because even artists need to sit. Several in the group wanted to go back just to shop there.   There were lots of little shops, most selling art, jewelery, trinkets, ceramics, and a few selling toys and tourist stuff.  The whole village was too big for just one day.  Even if the sun had shone.

But.. it didn’t shine. It started to rain.  I tried to keep my spirits up, and trudge on, but I admit to being a wuss. I decided to go on home a bit early, but with a promise to myself to return.   It is easy to do.

You call this work?

February 7, 2010

All the teachers in our high school had to go to a weekend workshop. At least that is what they said we would have to do.  In reality we left Friday morning to the East sea. All of us climbed aboard two buses and took off.  It was quite organized.   When we arrived we settled into our rooms, then had two workshops.  Now, I don’t know if the workshops were interesting or boring. I don’t speak Korean and the whole thing was done in Korean.  I read my book.

After the two and a half hours of workshops we went to dinner.  Keep in mind that our school isn’t a party school.  Some schools do have beer in the second floor teacher’s lounge, and when they go to lunch booze is always part of the package. My school isn’t like that. My school is more a hiking/dancing/ activities school.  I kind of like it that way.  But this time our school became a drinking school. The booze flowed freely at dinner and then we all went to noribang- or karaoke.  I sang two songs and a duet to “Nobody” by the Wonder Girls (one of the most popular songs right now) with my co-teacher.   My vice- principal danced.  I have to admit to being a bit shocked because although he is a very nice man, he always seems so serious.  It was good to see the teachers let loose a bit.

Everyone woke up early, and I was surprised at breakfast because no one seemed hung over, and they were raring to go.   There were two groups, one went to the beach and one went to the mountains.  I chose the beach. I was not surprised that my co-teacher chose the mountain. She is an avid hiker. All the beach goers went in one bus and all the mountain hikers went in another.  I found out that my seat mate is going to be my new co-teacher.  Actually I have 5 co-teachers in the classroom, but I have one co-teacher for everything else – schedules, getting information, problems with my apartment, where to get things, etc.  Ms.Choi will be my new co-teacher and since she sits next to me she has been informally doing these things anyway.

So we drove about 15 minutes to get to the beach, and walked up a small mountain to Nam-ska temple.  The temple had burned down recently so they are re-building it.  My co-teacher apologized because it wasn’t ancient, but since it is a working temple I didn’t think it mattered that much.   I even found out that you could do a temple stay there if you like.  I think it would be interesting and I made note to myself to find out more about it in spring.

After we climbed up to see the giant  Buddha statue we walked down to the Beach.

This is for Raymond:

The food–

fish roasted with hot/sweet sauce and side dishesvarious side disheseven more side dishes