Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Friday, September 29, 2006
Sunday, September 03, 2006
I fly out of Seoul and in to Kuala Lumpur in exactly 12 hours and it still hasn't hit me yet. I've been homeless this weekend (not very out of the ordinary though really) but Kaleigh and Tom are nice enough to let me crash on their couch last night and tonight. The last couple weeks have been busy with planning, packing, saying goodbyes and a temple retreat at Hwagyesa last weekend. I'm sad to leave the youngsters but I've had a great year with them and will never forget them.
I wonder if Andy will ever draw with a color besides green or if Ali will ever lose the cute but confused look she always wears? Will Will stop giving himself hickeys? Will Andy get over his fear of buses and pirates with huge fake heads? I wonder if George will continue to eat anything and everything he encounters on the floor/in the bathroom/in his nose? How long will Kitty Class say "G'day mate" to the new teacher every morning? Will they remember me?
After my last day I packed my room up, shipped some stuff home and now everything that's coming with me fits in a big backpack. It's a weird feeling knowing that I'll be jobless for an indeterminate amount of time. Weird but good though. So now I'm off! I'll keep the updates coming if I can. Farewell.
Destination: Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei & Thailand
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Korean marketing genius
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Home away from home
Monday, August 21, 2006
While I waited for a friend outside an exit at Dongdaemun station I watched this old lady pile and re-pile her grapes and nectarines. She had a skinny long cigarette hanging out of her mouth and she smoked it all (and the next one five minutes later) without ever taking it from her mouth. The ash grew long and kept falling on her shirt. The grapes were delicious and much cheaper than buying from the supermarket. Peel the skins off to eat the grapes Korean style. Yum!
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Some more Jeju island pics..
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Jeju Island: Part 2, Loveland
On Jeju I couldn't believe how many random museums the island boasts, including an African Museum, a Chocolate Museum, a Cinema Museum, a Tangerine Museum, and Miniature Land. Wanting a more relaxing vacation and not having the slightest desire to see a midget Eiffel Tower or learn about Africa while in Korea, I decided to skip them all and head for the beach. Then at the beach one day I heard from some fellow travelers that I should stop by Loveland. They assured me I would not leave disappointed.
So my last Friday night on the island I made my way to Loveland and paid my 7,000 won admission to see what all the fuss was about. Holy penises! I was absolutely shocked that such a place could exist in this country! I thought I had stepped into the twilight zone. I mean this is Korea, where if I even have an accidental exposed strip of skin showing on my midriff, a random stranger (usually a well-intentioned ajumma) will tug my shirt down for me and cover up the offensive show of skin.
Penis-shaped arrows on the concrete sidewalk directed visitors on this outdoor tour of the flesh, which began with a statue of a naked woman on all fours in quite a provocative position. Young couples giggled as they shyly observed the several different and complex positions the exhibitionist statues were modeling for the usually conservative Korean people. Many were less shy though and went up to pose with the statues, grabbing an ass cheek or a breast with one hand and doing the obligatory peace sign with the other.
After walking past the giant tile-mosaic penis (how funny would that look in Miniature Land?), I went into the small museum of random sex-themed things. On the walls, there were around 20 color photographs of the same couple engaged in a series of different coital positions. An older man was getting within inches of each one, squinting his eyes and wrinkling his forehead, wearing an expression of both curiosity and amazement. I could almost hear him thinking, "Why didn't I ever think of that?" And then there was the peep show box, which featured a collage of Hustler-worthy photographs, that even I was embarrassed to be seen looking at. Moving on, I walked by glass cases full of vibrators, blow-up dolls, S & M paraphernalia and condoms.
As I walked back outside I saw a crowd gathering and lights and cameras being assembled and put into position. I asked someone nearby what was happening and was told there would be nude models coming out soon for a local artist to paint. "Very special event", someone told me, as they excitedly looked on. Sure enough, a few minutes later a masked man and woman walked out wearing white and black sheets respectively. Eventually, after several poses that left the models progressively exposed, they were both completely nude as the artist furiously painted on. He finished the show by painting a splash of black directly across their naked bodies.
As I left Loveland, I walked by several more statues doing unthinkable things and a car that rocked and emitted shouts of ecstasy every few seconds. I walked out into the Korea I know feeling strangely displaced.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Book Review: Tales from the Expat Harem
I reviewed this book for Rolf Pott's Vagablogging website this month. Rolf and I met last year in Kansas (his home state also) at a book reading of his at Watermark. He has a great website for travelers and I would highly recommend his book, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, to anyone thinking of traveling the world (or anyone sick of living in a cubicle 40 hours a week). The book and the person are both an inspiration to me-- my teaching in Korea can also be partially attributed to meeting Rolf (he taught for 2 years in Busan). Thanks Rolf!
Here's an excerpt of the review of Tales from the Expat Harem...
As a self-proclaimed travel freak currently teaching English in Korea, I love venturing into new places and letting the unknown surroundings stimulate my senses. I am particularly curious to hear how other travelers experience different countries, especially when it involves other equally adventurous females traveling solo.
Tales from the Expat Harem, an anthology of modern travel writing about Turkey, includes stories that span four decades, contributed by 29 women from around the world, the majority being from America. The tales are told from many drastically different perspectives with entrepreneurs, archaeologists, Peace Corps volunteers, missionaries, English teachers and women marrying into the Turkish culture -- to name a few -- offering their personal and often intimate accounts of the Turkey they have come to know and love. The topics throughout this anthology range from the hamam or Turkish bath, marriage rituals, tales of the bazaar, song and dance, and Turkish superstitions.
Click here to read the complete review.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
The Americanization of Zach
8 year old Zach (named after my younger brother), started in my class two weeks ago after moving back to Korea after 2 years in Eugene, Oregon. I took him and the rest of the class for ice cream the other day and three teenage girls came and sat down (within hearing distance) at a table a couple feet from ours. Zach takes one look at one of the slightly overweight girls and says to me matter-of-factly, "Aly Teacher, she's real fat!". I proceeded to tell him that he needs to keep those sort of comments to himself and what he did was extremely rude. He replied, "It's okay Teacher, she doesn't speak American!". Time to bust that myth of his before he gets in trouble. Unfortunately though, I've encountered many expats, GI's and travelers that share Zach's belief that most Koreans don't speak English and therefore proceed to have disrespectful conversations any time or place. I've seen it too many times to deny it. The truth is that most Koreans understand at least some English, especially in Seoul. And even if they don't understand English, it's quite obvious when you're being talked about on the subway by a group of foreigners. Let's hope Zach has learned his lesson and doesn't get beat up by the next teenage girl he calls a chunk.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Jeju island: Part 1
I'm back from Jeju island to find the rainy season has abruptly ended. July was constant rain, everyday almost without fail. The forecast for August seems to be hot, hot, hot and humid. This summer weather makes me feel like I'm back home again. Unless I'm in the classroom, I'm usually wearing a constant sweat bead moustache and my clothes are drenched. I wake up now before 7 not to the light of the sun like before but to the HEAT of the sun.
The weather on Jeju was perfect beach weather everyday. The only respite from the heat in the weather was a refreshing short summer storm on Saturday. Overall, the trip was a good one, although not exactly relaxing. I traveled all around the island, sleeping every night in a different place including several saunas, a lifeguard stand on the beach, a home stay with a Korean family, and a couchsurfing couch.
The first night John met me at the airport with Sonny, who drove us to his house in Jeju City where his wife Maggie had dinner waiting for us (at 10:00 pm), complete with pumpkin from their garden followed with watermelon. John had met Sonny on a beach and Sonny had insisted that we do a homestay for a night. Sonny was a funny character whom I began to refer to as 'The King of Idioms'. He must have spent some serious time studying books devoted to English idioms, as he seriously had one for every situation. Their bookshelves were full of English learning books and many of the classics in English. After we went to our room-- a mattress on the floor surrounded with a much needed mosquito net-- I found a book called 'Sexy English' on the book shelf. We were shocked at some of the slang words included and couldn't quite imagine Sonny studying and memorizing them. We were dying trying not to wake our hosts up with our laughter when we came to the section on mispronunciation, complete with drawings for mistakes such as, "I put some clean shits on the bed", "The audience crapped for a long time after the concert", and "Rots of ruck on your coming erection" (Lots of luck on your coming election)!
The next day Sonny and Maggie had planned out a complete itinerary for the day with visits to places such as Miniature World, the Chocolate Museum and a green tea farm. I told Sonny that honestly we didn't care much for seeing any museums and would just love to go to the beach.(Other random museums Jeju boasts are the Africa Museum, Cinema Museum, and Tangerine Museum.) He was obviously relieved about the suggestion and we all piled in the van, along with their 25 year old son, Chance, for the beach. Twice on the way, we went the wrong way on the street, making John feel right at home. At one of the three beaches we went to, John and I gave Sonny and Chance a swimming lesson. Later, thinking the 20 minute swimming lesson was sufficient enough, Sonny swam out to the deep part where John and I were floating around and I had to drag him back to safety. My lifeguard training actually came in handy again!
Saturday night Sonny and Maggie dropped us off at a bus stop where we caught a bus to Jungmun beach. (Sonny secretly told John to take me to a romantic beach and had spent much time telling us how perfect of a "couple" we were. Koreans don't seem to understand the concept of platonic male/female friendships. It was amusing though nonetheless.) John and I had a grand time swimming after dark, burying each other in the sand and then sleeping in the lifeguard stand on the beach. Unfortunately for John, I stole the sleeping bag in my sleep (I swear I don't remember!) and he froze all night. The mosquitoes got revenge on me for him though: I woke up with 24-- I counted-- mosquito bites only on my legs. John had 2.
After John woke me up at 6 am I walked up to the Hyatt looking like a barefoot and homeless child to brush my teeth and get some water. On my way, I was teased by the most delicious looking brunch ever-- watermelon, oranges, bananas, omletes, potatoes, waffles, juices-- and I was starving. We played on the beach for a few hours until our growling stomachs couldn't take it anymore-- there was a serious lack of food on this beach. John shouted my breakfast at the Hyatt and we ate until we could barely move, taking advantage of the gourmet food and air conditioning. It was delicious...
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Heuksando and Hongdo islands
Last Friday I met Hilly at the train station after his adventurous week in Japan and Busan and then we hopped on the earliest KTX to Mokpo. It wasn't a planned trip (as usual); neither of us knew where we were going until we actually bought the ticket. Because of this lack of planning, Hilly went from Busan to Seoul to Mokpo all in one day. (Look at a map and you'll see how ridiculous this travel route is.) Before our train left, we stocked up on picnic supplies for the 3 hour journey. We got in around 11 pm and stayed at a sauna. As we were leaving in the morning a Korean guy started speaking in Spanish to us, which was very weird. My Spanish has gone downhill since I started learning Korean and now whenever I try to speak it, Korean always ends up replacing the Spanish words I can't remember. Finally, I found someone who understands and appreciates my Spanean!
We missed to ferry to our intended destination of Hongdo by 10 minutes so instead we jumped on a ferry to Heuksando, which is about 20 km East of Hongdo (and a 2 hour ferry ride from Mokpo). From Heuksando we were planning on catching a ferry to Hongdo. Once on Heuksando, we had about four hours before the ferry left for Hongdo so our first mission was to find a beach. I asked a fisherman if we were walking towards the beach. We thought he told us that he would take us to the beach on his fishing boat. He stopped and picked up his wife, daughter, a few of their friends around the same age as us, and a couple blocks of small frozen fish (imported from China) and we were off. About 15 minutes later we landed at a (beach-free) floating fishing/oyster farm with a small shack aboard a floating dock. The surrounding view was vibrant green hilly islands to one side and dark, partially fog-covered ones one the other. One of the friends spoke English quite fluently so luckily we didn't have a communication barrier.
After a brief tour around the swaying maze of the fish farm with our new friends everyone began to fish for lunch. It seems a bit like cheating to me-- seriously, they're trapped in cages already. Instead of fishing, I sat on the edge and dangled my feet in the water in hopes of spotting some of the huge sunset-pink jellyfish I saw when I went to Ulleungdo. I was in luck, but unfortunately that meant no swimming after lunch. I'm absolutely fascinated by the jellyfish, I could watch them for hours...
After awhile we all gathered on the dock and lunch was thrown together in a matter of minutes. In one moment, an unfortunate fish flapping in a bucket jumps out the open dock scaring the girls, in the next, he is on the table, chopped up into bite size pieces. Out translater said that a fish like that usually costs around 60,000 won/kilo. Hilly said it tasted pretty average. Along with the fish, there was also rice, kimchi, more kimchi, kim (dried seaweed), soju and raspberry wine, followed with watermelon.
Our new friends
After lunch Hilly and I were craving a swim but the fisherman's daughter so eloquently said, "You swim, you die. Maybe." That settles that, no swimming with the giant jellyfish. During lunch we were convinced to stay on Heuksando island for the night instead of going to Hongdo (there's nothing to do there at night, they said). We agreed and accepted their invitation to stay at their house. We took the boat back to the main island around 4 pm and while they all went to visit Grandfather, Hilly and were dropped off at a sad looking beach for some exploring on our own. We walked on a trail off the road that led to a clearing in the woods that had a couple of the grass mound graves and lots of interesting little things--catterpillars, butterflies, flowers, berries and bugs-- to look at. We walked out the other side of the clearing and past a woman in her garden who gave us very strange looks and said something we didn't understand. The path then led us through the small village where we were announced to the rest of the gardeners by another woman who spotted us and yelled, "Waygook, waygook! (foreigner, foreigner!)".
We met up with our friends later and after a driving tour of the island, we went back to the house for a lovely dinner followed by a birthday party and a midnight ramyeon fest before crashing for the evening. The next morning we all ate breakfast together, promised to meet up sometime in the future (besides the parents, everyone lived in Kwangju), and then walked to the ferry terminal together, where Hilly and I boarded for Hongdo.
Hongdo means "red rock island" and it is supposed to be fairly similar to Ulluengdo island off the West coast. Shortly after arriving, we walked past a young girl and her parents. Her parents then said something to the girl to the effect of, "Go show the strange foreigners around the island. Off you go, hurry up, they're waiting!" We then got a tour of the exciting sights from an eight year old perspective. She was a talker, barely stopping for breath and seemingly unaware that we understood only a fraction of what she was saying. She showed us mostly bugs and plants and spiders but also the local hangout for the stray cats. We bought her ice cream as payment for the impromptu tour.
The only way to fully experience and see the island is to take a boat around to view the rock formations. Koreans, I have noticed, love to find and name rock formations that look like something else. Because the boat tour we took was in Korean, we couldn't tell what formations we were looking at, but they were pointing out countless rocks that looked just like rocks to us. It was fun though.
Afterwards, we took the 2 hour ferry back to Mokpo and then the 3 hour KTX back up to Seoul.
Friday, July 28, 2006
On my way to Jeju
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Mud photos hit the Korea Times
A couple of my photos from the Boryeong mud fest came out in the Korea Times today via Annie (the author of the article) whom I met at Hwagyesa. Click here to see the online version. The ladies I'm getting muddy with below are Heather and Lauren.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Friday, July 21, 2006
A Lesson Learned or What Not to do When Your Student Breaks an Arm
This is Ben. Last week I was giving oral tests to this class individually in the hallway while the rest of the class was doing work in their books in the classroom. (In fact though, they were running around and breaking things.) I went in the room and called for Ben to come out in the hall for his test. He was crying and he's usually not a crier but I didn't think much of it.
Me- What's wrong?
Ben- My arm.
Me- Are you okay?
Ben- I'm okay. Small ouch. (said with a pained look on his face)
Me- Okay then, number one: Is this a pencil?
Ben- (tear) Sniffle, sniffle.
Me-Do you want to go see the desk teacher?
Ben- NOOOO!!! Please no desk teacher. I'm okay. Small ouch.
Me- Alright, you're okay. Give me your hands let's shake it out. (I take both his hands and shake his arms)
The desk teacher then came over and asked Ben to bend his arm for her. It did not look right. Ben was then promptly sent to the hospital. Tough kid though. Yesterday he was back in class and I acted out the story (playing Ben and myself) to the class about how Ben broke his arm and said it was a "small ouch" and then his wicked teacher violently shook his arms. They were in hysterics. I bought Ben (and the rest of the class) dokboki and apologized for the shaking episode. I also threatened to break his other arm if he kept talking throughout class. The other kids thought that was really funny. This class is warped. It's the same one that collectively told me a that student had been run over by a truck and died after he missed two classes.
So, what did I learn from this? First, don't trust 8 year olds unattended in a room even for a mere five minutes. Second, check for broken bones BEFORE shaking limbs!
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Boryeong Mudfest 2006
The Mudfest is the biggest Festival of the year in Korea and this year it happened to fall on a three day weekend. Three days of sun, mud, sand, waves and rain. Oh yeah, and a bit of beer. Ahhh, the weekend, you really can't beat it.
This weekend was very different from my typical weekend away from the city. One of the main reasons (besides the mud) was because of all the foreigners here. Boryeong is a relatively small city with only about 10 foreigners, but for this festival, foreigners swarm to the city. It was probably an equal match of Koreans to foreigners, with hundreds of people gathered on the beach. It's amazing how many people you come to know after a year of living in one place. The foreign community in Korea seems to endlessly be connected in strange and unexpected ways that sometimes will only become known once you throw everyone together on a beach.
The sun was out on Saturday and by 2 pm I had a bright red splotchy sunburn all over. I put on sunscreen damn it! Maybe the mud interacting with it made it ineffective. By the next morning I also had several mosquito bites to go along with my burn. I think the jimjilbang I stayed at was breeding mosquitoes in an unused sauna room. Back to the beach though. There was lots of frolicking in mud, going down the mudslide, and then wrestling in the mud pit. Then also there was swimming in the ocean. Playing in the waves almost brought back childhood memories I would have had had I grown up by the ocean. It felt nostalgic anyways. I realized this weekend that I suck at swimming in the ocean no matter how much fun I have. I just didn't grow up with it, I don't understand the waves. Oh, I will someday (soon) but for now I'm still that awkward Midwesterner not knowing quite what to do in the ocean. This naivety of the waves led to my being pulled under for awhile, disoriented, and swallowing a nose full of salty water and losing my favorite blue bandana (impermanence, I tell myself). Either way it was fun and I didn't drown.
A great weekend overall, if not a bit exhausting.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
We left late Friday night on 2 buses with a total of 89 people with Adventure Korea. I think we got to the South Korean immigration office around 7:30 am and then the North Korean immigration around 9:00 am but it's all real fuzzy because I apparently took too many of these little orange pills from Kaleigh in an attempt to get some sleep on the bus. I passed out hard. When I woke up I could barely walk or comprehend what people were saying to me. I heard what they were saying but then I forgot about 2 seconds later. Luckily it wore off not too long after we arrived.
As we were driving through immigration and then on to Geumgangsan mountains, photographs were not allowed and soldiers were standing along the road holding red flags ready to alert for backup if need be. Everyone had to wear an identification card around your neck at all times or be subject to a fine. North Koreans are easily identified because of their lack of these cards and also the addition of a small red pin worn above their heart bearing a portrait of the senior Kim. (Another sign that you are probably from the South was the presence of a shirt with Konglish or inappropriate English. Somehow I doubt the guy I saw with a "FUCK ME" shirt on was a North Korean...)
The weather all weekend was overcast and very foggy, especially up in the mountains on the hikes both days. That meant no amazing views from the top but at least we weren't hiking in the heat. The fog hung in the air constantly and gave the mountains more of an eerie feel. The "town square" (if it could be called that) was strange also. It felt like you had just walked into a huge movie set. There were hardly any cars and the mountains surrounding it were like a giant 360 backdrop. There was a Family Mart (accepting US dollars and South Korean won) and a big souvenir building, a few restaurants, a couple hotels and a dome performance hall where we saw an acrobatics show on Saturday afternoon.
We stayed at the Geumgangsan hotel. It was the nicest place I've stayed at since I've been in Korea. A definite step up from my usual random weekend accommodation usually consisting of a piece of hard floor or ground. We had an end room so we got lucky with a balcony looking into the mountains. We were looking over the balcony as the sky was darkening and mist droplets were sticking to our arms and I realized one reason it seemed so surreal was the silence. Or not silence, but lack of city sounds: traffic noises, loud speakers and all the other sounds I've grown accustomed to from living in the city. It was only cicadas, a dog barking and other outdoor sounds.
We had some beers and then some North Korean whiskey (disgusting) and had ourselves a once-in-a-lifetime North Korean party. We found out later that we drank the hotel completely out of beer. I still managed to go to bed before midnight but was found early in the morning sleepwalking around the halls. I always seem to do that whenever I'm sleeping in hotels. Or maybe I do it at my apartment also but there's just not anyone around to tell me about it in the morning. I went back to bed like a robot and don't remember it at all.
It was a good trip. A weird trip. Like it was all just a big show. Starting with the overly friendly North Korean greeters once we walked through customs and continuing on all weekend. It would be interesting to spend some time in North Korea and actually be able to make it past the surface of things. Probably not possible for me, but at least an intriguing thought.