Monday, November 28, 2005

Insadong

Sanchon restaurant in Insadong

Friday night was uneventful but I didn't want to use up all my energy and waste the rest of my weekend so I decided to stay in. Saturday I made my way to Insadong once again to browse around amidst the art galleries, antique shops, ceramic shops and traditional tea shops. My first stop was a tea shop called Dalsaeneun Dalman Saeng Gakhanda (translated to English as 'moon bird thinks only of moon'). It's small and rustically decorated with plants everywhere, birds chirping and relaxing music playing. I ordered the ginger tea which was served with rice cakes. (I made my own ginger tea a few weeks ago and was impressed with my first attempt, but my tea is nothing compared to the tea shops in Insadong) After leaving the tea shop I strolled around the alleys in Insadong, went to a tea museum and finally made my way to the 'Buddha street' where Jogyesa Temple is located. I was standing by the 500 year old tree (National Treasure #9) in front of the main hall when a Korean man, whose English name was Carlos, asked if I wanted to go in the temple with him. I went in and ended up listening to a dharma talk in Korean for 30 minutes given by a famous monk, but left before it was over because I couldn't understand it. Afterwards, I walked to Seoul's first park, Tapgol (Pagoda) Park, which includes National Treasure #2, a 10-story pagoda built in the 15th century during the Joseon dynasty. This park is also the site where the independence movement in 1919 began.
I stayed in Insadong Saturday night for dinner with a friend at Sanchon restaurant, which is owned by a man who was a monk for 30 years. Sanchon has a set menu of 16 vegetarian courses cooked in the Buddhist-temple style. The meal was really good and included a performance of Seungmu (Buddhist dance) and Bara dancing at the end. Unfortunately though, I was pulled on stage at the end and forced into dancing in front of everyone without so much as a shot of soju to help me along. It wasn't so bad I guess, especially since I'm sure everyone was looking at the middle aged white man going crazy with a Korean woman...I'm sure there must have had some soju at his table.


Moonbird thinks Only of Moon Teashop in Insadong


Fortune teller outside of Tapgol Park near Insadong

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Safe in Seoul...

A couple days ago I went to the website of my hometown newspaper for an update from Kansas and was shocked that 5 of the 7 headlines on the main page were concerning crime and violence:

12-year-old Wichita boy shot in the neck

Butler County woman charged in murder case

Wichitan convicted of stealing money from elderly woman

One suspect arrested, another sought in stabbing

Man involved in sodomy case will get to celebrate holidays

Was there a time (not so long ago) when an abundance of headlines such as these didn't invoke such a strong reaction for me, or was it just a particularly crime-filled week in Wichita? If the former is true (which sadly, is most probable), it's unfortunate how desensitized you can become after being continuously surrounded by crime through the media. I only came to this realization after living in a city considered by many to be one of the safest cities in the world. Yes, I'm sure the arguments over the recent kimchi trade war between China and Korea have a potential to turn violent, and I'm not denying that Korea doesn't have it's share of crime, but it's nothing compared to most major American cities. The crime rates are especially shocking when you take into consideration Wichita is a city of less than 500,000 and Seoul metropolis is home to over 10 million.
With this being said, I rarely ever felt threatened in Wichita and would never have considered it an "unsafe" city by any standards. But after looking at it from an outside perspective, I realize that even though I wasn't witness to most of the crimes taking place, sadly they were still occurring. It is comforting to live in a city where theft and violence are so uncommon. When I first moved here I thought it was so strange when I saw children walking around alone (even at night) in such a huge city but now I hardly take notice. Or when, at a restaurant or bar you can leave your purse (or in my case, backpack) and get up and dance or whatever and be confident that it will untouched when you return (I know it sounds crazy but it's true!). Perhaps someday we can look forward to a world void of meaningless crimes but until then...

(Yes, I do realize that the moment I wrote this I drastically increased my probability of getting drugged, mugged and assaulted in Seoul, but I'm willing to take that risk)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

"I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land."

-Jon Stewart

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It's a small world

Yesterday I took my first trip south on line 4 subway and had the pleasure of meeting with a cousin who coincidentally is living 20 minutes from me on the same line...What are the odds? How strange that our two unconventional sets of circumstances crossed again in South Korea? He was assigned to live in Korea for a 2 year mission as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has been living here for a month now and I was very impressed with how fast he's learning Korean. I suppose learning the language is very necessary when you spend everyday conversing with Korean people. I met him and his Korean companion for a dinner of sundubu and then afterwards we went to his Bishop's house. It was my first time in a Korean house and actually the first time I've even seen houses in or around Seoul (most Seoulites live in enormous apartment complexes). It was unusual being inside an actual 2-story house in Korea because I've grown quite used to my one-room apartment where every inch of floor is used efficiently. Wow, a separate kitchen and living room, I've already forgot what it was like! (I've actually been in a friends apartment here that is literally the size of a walk-in closet.) It was wonderful to see him again though and get reacquainted with one another; although we often hear about each other from family, we've actually only seen each other a handful of times. I hope we get the opportunity to meet up again while we're both living here but if not, I wonder what occasion will bring us together next time we meet...?



Jamie and his companion

Monday, November 21, 2005

You know you're in Korea when...

...drivers commonly disregard traffic laws, such as: running red lights, driving on sidewalks and driving with no headlights on at night but amazingly you rarely witness any wrecks.

...the streets are full of children just leaving school at 10:30pm.

...you consider it normal to eat fruit with beer.

...it's common to see a roll of toilet paper on the tables in restaurants.

...pizza and spaghetti is always served with pickles.

...you frequently use squat toilets, have actually grown used to them and don't even mind them anymore.

...you bring your own toilet paper everywhere you go.

...the weather turns cold and everyone wears SARS masks.

...you go to the doctor over a sneeze.

...an ajumma aproaches you and pulls your pants up or shirt down to cover any exposed skin.

...you're on the subway or walking down the street and people practice their English on you. (Hi how are you, I'm fine, thanks. It's sunny. Goodbye.)

...you're always accidentally pushed into and bumped, never with so much as a look of apology.

...your dating potential to Koreans is partially based on your blood type.

...everyone around you can simultaneously walk through mobs of people, send a text on their handphone, listen to their MP3 player all while barely avoiding being caught in the path of traffic.

...you eat on the floor in a restaurant, wearing no shoes.


More to come...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Crying Students

My day wouldn't be normal if I didn't have at least five of my kindergartners cry but it's much more rare for my older afternoon students to cry. Yesterday though, I accidentally brought 2 students to tears in one of my afternoon classes within minutes of starting the class. I was writing all their names on the board I and giving them each nicknames (they came up with Chris-mas for Chris, ha ha). For Henry (one of the twins) I wrote "Hairy Henry" and asked the class if they knew what "hairy" meant. They didn't so I began to draw a boy with hair all over his body and face but right after starting I hear someone burst into tears. It was a new, really cute boy named Harry who misunderstood and thought the hairy beast on the board was meant to be him...Oops. After nearly 3 months of teaching one thing I've learned is that if you want to cheer up a crying kid either a) hurt yourself (I have a huge bruise on my leg from running into the table last week and the class thought it was hilarious!) or b) make fun of yourself. On this occasion I decided to have the kids help me draw a picture of Aly teacher on the board. They wanted me to have one small ear, one big ear, a pig nose, sharp teeth, red eyes and big hair and by the end were calling me "Aly monster". This successfully cheered Harry up but when I looked the classroom, Emily was missing. I found her crying uncontrollably under the table because she was scared of the Aly monster picture. She's considerably younger than the rest of the class-- the classes at hogwan's are based more on ability than age. I guess you just can't please them all...

These are the twins Henry and Chris, the only difference in appearance being a chip in Henry's tooth. They always try to confuse me with who is who and then get mad when I call them the wrong name. Sit down and show me your teeth now!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"But beyond travel, vagabonding is an outlook on life. Vagabonding is about using the prosperity and possibility of the information age to increase your personal options instead of your personal possessions. Vagabonding is about looking for adventure in normal life, and normal life within adventure. Vagabonding is an attitude-- a friendly interest in people, places, and things that makes a person an explorer in the truest, most vivid sense of the word."

-Excerpt from Vagabonding-An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Spicy Korean food

Why are so many Koreans convinced that all westerners can't take the heat of Korean dishes? Saturday I met up with Jamie,TKoo and their friend, Yongsa in Apkujeong and we went to eat at a spicy octopus (nakji) restaurant. When they first mentioned the nakji restaurant, they said we couldn't go there because it would be "too spicy for me." Yes, Korean food is spicier than many other types of foods but I've never had anything here that has been too hot for me. I went to a restaurant near my apartment awhile back and was actually refused service because the ajumma at the door said the food was too spicy and I wouldn't be able to eat it! After dispelling the myth that all westerners can't handle the heat, we finally decided on the nakji restaurant.

Friday, November 11, 2005

"I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center."

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (born November 11, 1922)

Pepero Day


I just learned about this holiday last night when a Korean friend was explaining the mobs of people around a pepero stand in Gangnam. This is a holiday named after the chocolate-covered snack "Pepero" and is similar to Valentine's day. It's celebrated on 11/11 because the date looks like 4 sticks of pepero. I bought a box of pepero and we're having a party in my kindergarten class after lunch today-- we can always use another reason to celebrate!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Unlucky number 4

In Korea, the number 4 is considered very unlucky for the reason that it sounds exactly like the Korean word for death, which is pronounced "sa"(which also happens to be the word for a shrine or temple). Hospitals never have a 4th floor and many other buildings don't either and if they do it's often listed as an "F". So is it just a coincidence or is my school trying to make a statement about the foreigner teachers by giving us all apartments on the clearly-marked 4th floor in the school where I work?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Soraksan

This was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen and a wonderful holiday away from the city of over 10 million people. It was refreshing to breathe in fresh mountain air and rediscover the joy of hiking. After this trip I've come to the conclusion that hiking is an activity best done alone--unless you're venturing too far off the beaten path. I think the nature surrounding us is most appreciated when we only have our own thoughts to accompany us; conversation only distracts from the sight, sound and smell of the mountains that deserve our full attention. Granted, Soraksan is a very busy mountain, but if you start early enough and hike far enough you're bound to get away from the crowds for at least awhile. (The rain on Sunday morning also helped with that)






This was the greatest meal I've had in Korea, partially up a mountain...Sanchae bibimbap (rice with fresh mountain vegetables, an egg and red pepper paste), pajeon or "korean pancake" (egg, wheat and rice flour and green onions pan fried), vegetable stew, salad and some vegetable side dish. It was delicious but I could barely eat half of it and it only cost 3,000Won (less than $3)!

Sokcho Friday night


Back home again and soooo sore from hiking! It was the best weekend though, Soraksan was beautiful, the hiking was great and the food was delicious. I might have to make it back to Soraksan once more before winter comes.

I took a bus to Sokcho right after class and made it by 12:30am. Sokcho is the northernmost city in South Korea on the east coast and is a gateway city to the beautiful Soraksan National Park. The weekend got off to a rocky start with a psychotic taxi driver. I told the driver "Bulgama sauna" which should have been a 4-5 minute drive but after only around 30 seconds he pulled over, pointed to a sign written in Korean for the Sokcho sauna and said "sauna." "No, no, no, BUL-GA-MA sauna." He just kept pointing and repeating "sauna" over and over. I was tired and didn't want to deal him anymore so I just decided to just go to the Sokcho sauna instead. I got out of the cab and the driver wanted me to pay him 2,000Won for driving me to the wrong place that was only a very short walk from where he picked me up. I gave him 1,000Won so he would leave me alone and walked off. Apparently he thought he deserved another 1,000W so he jumps out of the cab, gets in my face and starts yelling at me while I'm making my way as quickly as possible to a more populated area. Alright...so no more taxi's in Sokcho, I'll stick to the bus while I'm here. Since I've been in Korea though, I've never had any problem with the taxi drivers until this incident. I've found most of them to be very honest and polite. One English-speaking taxi driver even called my friend to make sure I found my way to her house on a Saturday night after I used his phone to call her and ask for directions. A very nice gesture, besides the fact that it was 4:00am.

Anyways, after waiting awhile in the convenience store I went to the Sokcho sauna to relax and get some sleep before a big day of hiking Saturday. After spending some time in the pools and wet saunas I headed to the jimjilbang's and sleeping area. I was expecting a sleeping area similar to the Gangnam spa but it was more like a huge room with people sprawled out everywhere on the floor and no blankets in sight. Luckily, I can usually fall asleep anywhere and was dreaming by the time my head hit my wooden-block pillow and only awoke a couple times to the loud snoring of a few old men in the room.

My kids

Amy Sue from one of my afternoon classes.

This is my oldest class, minus Sally in front who just moved to China last week. This class wrote pen pal letters to Kansas.

My kindergarten class at the Halloween party with some of the other teachers behind. The guy in the pink is Dede from Kansas.

This is Emily, the most lovable, adorable and smart student ever!!!

Little Miss Deborah with a very typical look on her cute face. I always ask Deborah if she thinks she can fit in my suitcase when I go back to Kansas and she thinks it's so funny! She says she can be my little sister in Kansas.

This is my kindy class all dressed up in hanbok on a fieldtrip where they played traditional Korean games and learned how to bow. In the back: Deb, Aly, Ali, Amy, William, Shelby, Zack & Front: Andrew, Tracy, Jay and Stella. Aren't they the cutest kids ever?!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Weekend trip

If all goes as planned, by 2:00am on Saturday I should be in Sokcho, in the northeast corner of S. Korea. Hopefully I'll find someplace to crash for a couple hours and then I'll be off to Soraksan National Park. Only 8 hours until school's out for the weekend!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

"As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness."

-Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Cheonggye Stream
This stream is a natural and artificial stream that flows almost 11 kilometers through downtown Seoul and was recently uncovered and restored after almost 50 years of being underground. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) the stream separated the noble people from the common people and has long been a part of Seoul's history. It was finally covered over because of problems with flooding and sanitation in the late 50's but is now once again flowing through Seoul. The other night I walked along the Chonggye stream to see this most recent tourist attraction in Seoul. It was almost 11:00pm but there were still many Koreans walking and posing for pictures with the stream in the background. It's an especially good walk at night with all the colored lights they have along the stream. I saw quite a few stumbling drunk Koreans and was wondering how many fall into the stream every night. Later this week I hear that a 51-year-old woman fell from one of the bridges and died on opening day, October 1st and I have a strong feeling that soju played a part in the tragedy.


Kimchi mandu
Saturday hike
This weekend the temperature dropped several degrees and the leaves have all started changing into beautiful fall colors. On Saturday I hiked up a mountain within walking distance of my apartment and at the top I had a great view of Anyang and the surrounding landscape. Once again, almost every Korean I passed had a strange fascination with my choice of footwear. Partially up the mountain there was an outdoor gym complete with a stationary bike, weights and huge hula hoops. I sat on a rock when I got to the top of the mountain for awhile enjoying the view and eating apple slices that a Korean woman near me graciously shared. After I hiked back down I went to a restaurant near my apartment and had kimchi mandu for the first time. Mandu is a steamed Korean dumpling that is usually stuffed with some sort of meat, glass noodles, onions, garlic and other various vegetables and spices. I ordered the vegetarian version with kimchi and it was only 1,500Won and absolutely delicious! I think I'll soon become a regular at the mandu place.

Amanda, Aly and Tracey
Halloween
Koreans typically do not celebrate Halloween at all I found out this weekend when I went into Seoul all dressed up on Friday and Saturday night. Amanda and I constructed our wedding dresses on Thursday night out of a few yards of white and lacy fabric. We had white gloves, homemade veils and sashes that read, "Here come the Brides" written in rainbow colors. Some people actually thought we had bought our dresses (some even thought we actually just got married!), what a compliment to our domestic abilities! Who knew what we could do with a few yards of fabric and some safety pins? On Friday night we only saw a couple other people dressed up in Hongdae. On Saturday we went to a bar that had a costume party and ended up getting 2nd place, losing to a Korean girl dressed up as a Korean soccer fan. It was by audience applause and it was all over when she waved the Korean flag... there's no competition when it comes to Korean pride. Conveniently for us, there was also a priest present to make our marriage official. It was a really fun night but it was a relief to throw the dress away the next morning-- it was definitely not the most comfortable thing I've ever worn out. (The guy in the picture is Tracey, who wrote the article in the Korean Herald about the PETA protest of KFC)

What I'm Reading



The Compass of Zen (Shambhala Dragon Editions) (Paperback)

by Seung Sahn







Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3)

by J.K. Rowling