Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Merry Christmas

I was dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. Unfortunately, anytime we get snow in Ilsan, it is gone within a few hours. We did however, have a good Christmas celebration. On Christmas Eve, Sun took Christine and I out to lunch before work. He had asked us the day before if we would join him for lunch and not to tell anyone else that we were meeting. We spent the night wondering what this was about. Turns out, he just wanted to treat us to a nice lunch on Christmas Eve. We bought him a bottle of wine for Christmas from the grocery store across the street from L*Bridge. When I told him I didn't know if it was good or not, he simply stated, "It doesn't matter, it is alcohol. It will be good."

I had brought tangerines into work to give to all of the other teachers and quickly found out that I had been outdone by a long shot. We had three different cakes during our initial prep time. Later in the day, we all got pastries (something we used to get on a weekly basis until this last month). At the end of the day, someone else came in with a platter of cookies, kimbab, and sweet potatoes. I think most people forgot about the tangerines.

We came home Christmas Eve to find that the package from home had arrived. We tried to hold out and not open presents until Christmas, but midnight couldn't come soon enough. Our stockings were both stuffed with goodies and the presents were sitting under them just waiting to be opened. We opened presents at 11:00 PM on Christmas Eve. We got tons of goodies from each other and from home.

On Christmas Day, we had decided to eat at an International Buffet that we had seen earlier in the week. When we arrived at 6:30, we found out the wait was over 2 hours. I had planned to take full advantage of this buffet and hadn't eaten all day, so we decided to go somewhere else. We went to Wazzle to eat Chinese food instead. It was an incredibly nice restaurant with a great view of Western Dom.

While walking home, we bought a cake from one of the bakeries. Apparently, this is the thing to do on Christmas as almost everyone we saw was carrying a cake. We went home and indulged in a white cream cake before grading some papers for class tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Back by popular demand!

We have been informed numerous times that the blog has not been updated in a while and it is time for me to stop celebrating my 24th birthday. Life must move on after 24 I suppose…

Truth be told, Christine and I have been kept extremely busy both in work and leisure. Our first semester ended last week and we both got new schedules for the new semester. After one day of the new schedule, we both can tell this semester might be tougher than the previous. I have two more classes this semester (8 classes in a row on Wednesday) and Christine has been moved from a speaking teacher to a reading teacher. What was fun today was seeing some of the kids I had last semester in lower classes moving up to the next level. Some of my favorite students are in my class again making it that much more fun. I’ll talk more about L*Bridge and the students in a near future post. We have realized that after 3 months of being in Korea, we haven’t posted once about work.

Christine and I saw Jens Lekman in Hongdae this past weekend. I had only heard his music from Christine’s iTunes collection a few times but had a lot of fun at the concert. We got to the bar early enough that we were able to get pretty close to the stage. One of the opening bands was a cover band playing a lot of western rock music. I wished I had gotten a picture of these guys because they rocked! The small bar was packed (mostly foreigners) from front to back by the start of his show. It made me realize how many people in Korea teach English.

I have been bouldering at Bukhansan National Park almost on a weekly basis. The weather has stayed warm enough that I can still climb mid morning to evening without getting too cold. Unfortunately, this means I cannot climb before work anymore without climbing in 30 degree temperatures. I have met a group of people that have been developing the area for over a year now and have started climbing with them regularly. This past Sunday, I finally climbed a problem (Red Chili V3) that I had unsuccessfully attempted earlier this month. It is now the highlight of my climbing at Bukhansan.

One of the smaller boulders at the base of the River Beds at Bukhansan National Park.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Happy Happy Birthday

We had an eventful past seven days last week. It was our anniversary last Tuesday, so we got up early and took the subway to Hongdae (college district of Seoul) to have lunch and browse around. Ilsan has tons of restaurants, but we were craving middle eastern and something new, so we ventured out.

We settled down at a restaurant called Silk Road. We had felafels and french fries - as good, if not better than what we could have gotten in Bloomington.

That's Joe smoking a apple flavored hookah.

Me too.

Vintage, urban hipster shops, just like Cactus Flower!

Hongdae is pretty popular with foreigners because it has plenty of ethnic food - Mexican (which is where we went for Joe's birthday), Middle Eastern, Italian, etc - and also a great night life, with tons of live music.

Joe's birthday was Saturday, so we went to the flee market. Flee market is kind of the literal translation, but not entirely correct - the place we went to had 9 - 10 stories high department stores filled entirely with people selling clothes. It's where most clothing stores in Korea get their supplies from, so it's probably the best place to go shopping, as you're eliminating the middle man and presenting yourself with the most options possible. We both got nice winter coats - Joe's was a hard find, as he has unusually broad shoulders. We also encountered a bunch of young hipsters who wanted to talk to Joe (in decent English) how street tough they were, and how their shirts (with a bunch of obscenities) was straight from the streets of New York. Hilarious. We'll both post pictures. Between the two of us, six rabbits gave their lives for the lining of our coats. This made me a bit upset.

We went back to Hongdae to get Mexican. We got tacos and qusedilla, both a bit pricey but really good.

This is Joe with his birthday ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins. Baskin Robbins is the take over every block chain store in Korea, kind of what Starbucks was to New York not too long ago.

Finally, Joe at the WA bar. It has a variety of beers from all around the world. Joe's choice was a hoegarten. He's probably looking depressed because we went to a board game cafe prior to this picture, and I kicked his butt.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

This week is important for several reasons:

1. Tuesday is our 2 year anniversary!
2. Joe's birthday is Saturday, a very many 24 years. He has white hair to prove it.
3. Last full week of campaigns! We both have our absentee ballot for Obama sent to the states. BBC news had an interesting front page story - Indiana: History in the Making

It's whether Indiana can overcome its racist history and vote for a black man. Of course, to highlight most countries' image of Americans as fat, ridiculous people, they selected small town grandmas who pray, play bingo in huge American flag hats, and still say the word 'negro.' Either way, Indiana is now a 'moderate blue state' in some polls, and we have our fingers crossed!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Obama for change

My desktop image.

We both have been feverishly following the campaign, watching the debates on TV or online and constantly refreshing the NY Times homepage at work. It's hard not to be excited about the campaign Obama has been running, the prospect of Indiana going Blue and our votes actually counting! We both have our absentee ballots and will scan and e-mail them asap.

We're going to Lotte World tomorrow - the largest indoor amusement park in the world. It's the Disney World of South Korea.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The dog that spoke English

Sawyer is here! After a long flight from Indy, he has safely and legally arrived in South Korea. He enjoys walking around in the city and taking in all of the sights and new smells. He has become an instant celebrity here as there are no other Boston Terriers in this area. Some great lines Christine has overheard while walking the dog:
  • That dog speaks English!
  • [Girl #1] I like dogs like this. [Girl#2] What? Ugly dogs?
  • He looks foreign because he eats hamburgers. [After Christine explained to a man he was from America]

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Island of Jeju

We went on a tropical excursion this past weekend to Jeju Island, the largest Island in Korea and also a really cool place. It isn't high tourist season, but we still rode a flight full of older tourist ready to get their gear on. Friday was Foundation Day in Korea, a national holiday, so more the reason for people escape the city.

I was really excited about seeing palm trees. Joe also had a crazy Saturday where he fell asleep at every opportunity possible.

Many of the beaches we visited had dark, black rocks that smeared the ocean dark as well.

A well visited, well known waterfall. What this picture doesn't tell you is that this waterfall is so easily accessible that I felt cheated out of the experience.

Saturday was pretty cool, but the climax of our trip was hiking Halla Mountain Sunday morning. I complained almost the entire way up while simultaneously enjoying it. In retrospect, it's one of the coolest things I've done in recent memory. This should probably be its own entry for the sheer amount of photos it entails.

Halla Mountain is the tallest mountain in Korea. Originally a volcano, it has a crater lake on the top called Baegnokdam, which I think in translations means 'white deer lake,' because legends have it that otherworldly men descended from heaven to play with deer.

View from around 1500m above sea level.

You can see people hiking in above photo. You can, if looked closely, also see a staircase leading to the top. Kind of defines hiking in Korea.

A nice view with cloudy weather.

You can see the peak of the mountain in the background - the gray silhouette. It was raining pretty hard at this point; this is around 1800m above sea level.

Joe claims vegetation here is similar to a desert climate; there's also an abundance of pine trees, vicious black crows the size of two hands combined, and deer.

We were soaking wet by the time we approached the base of the mountain again.

View of the mountain from the parking lot and rest area.

We found a cozy tea house on the drive out of the mountains that grew its own green leaf. It was quite beautiful and they offered us free samples of green tea.

Outside the tea house - left signifies god of heaven, right signifies goddess of earth.

And the last photo is the view we had of the beach before boarding the plane back to Seoul Monday morning.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Solo adventure to Bukhansan National Park

Sunday marked the first day I traveled outside of our district on my own for the full day since arriving to Korea. I wanted to go to Bukhansan National Park for a second time while Christine wanted to focus on her artwork while I was gone. Although we had visited the park only a few weeks prior, I still went over the subway and bus route with Christine as she (and I) were afraid I might get lost and have no way of getting back. Fortunately, this park is visited by so many people (especially on Sunday mornings) that I only had to follow the people in hiking attire to find my way.

I left my hiking boots at home as they were too heavy for my bag and took up too much space. After hiking a short distance on our last journey, I really wished I had brought them along. When we left the park, we stopped in one of the many outdoor shops to see what they were selling. As a size 9.5 US, I have "large" feet by Korean standards. I found a pair of hiking boots on clearance for 10,00o won ($8.75 USD). They turned out to be an excellent find for my this Sunday's little excursion.

Bukhansan has a lot of historical and cultural history looming in the mountains. They are several Budhist Temples, some of which are still very active. There is also a large wall that was erected in the Joseon dynasty, close to 2,000 years ago. This was constructed to protect the capital at the time. There are also a few small towns within the park that house a number of residents and businesses.

Shortly into my hike, an older Korean man approached me while we were waiting for van to drive by one of the small roads. He started talking to me, in English, and asking me how I enjoyed the park and the mountains. I hiked with him for quite some time enjoying the company and having the opportunity to talk with an older generation from the Korean standpoint. I changed my initial plans of reaching Mt. Baekundae in the morning to continue hiking with him. I found out he was 73 years old and made the same 10+ kilometer (6+ mile) hike every Sunday with his wife (whom I was later introduced to). He was in excellent shape and didn't stop until he reached the public bathrooms halfway into the hike. He had lived and worked in America for 10 years moving to some major cities while he was there. When we reached the East Gate, we parted ways as I wanted to look around and turn back to reach the summit of Mt. Baekundae.

When I reached the approached, I realized why the man said he didn't hike to the summit. The trail had become a mass of boulders which I had to scramble up and around for some distance. After some time, you could tell when the trail became a trail again, but by no means was it an easy feat. The park service had put giant iron rods in the mountain with cables passing through each. This was to offer assistance while climbing or descending and provide protection for a fall. I'm sure the only reason they did this was because of the vast amount of people this park sees annually. With or without these devices, these hikers would be determined to make it to the top.

When I was able to see the top, I was surprised by the enormous amount of people at the peak, not that I should have been as I had a large number of people both in front of and behind me. This peak was easily 3-4 kilometers (2-2.5 miles) from the nearest entrance and proved to be a very strenuous workout to reach this area. The views from the top, however, proved to be worth the amount of people I had to squeeze through to move around. I was able to see the the mountainous side of Korea as well as an aerial view over a small section of the city (outskirts of Seoul) below. The South Korean flag at the top was pretty impressive and a lot of hikers were getting their pictures taken with it in the background.

The hike down was just as intense as the hike up, though it was much faster. My legs had become so fatigued that I was experiencing "Elvis Leg" or "Sewing Machine Legs" each time I stopped on the edge of a rock that formed the trail. I have experienced this sensation only while rock climbing, never while hiking. My legs had been burning through most of the hike as they had not worked like this in some time. When I reached the bottom, however, I regained enough energy to explore the creek bed in search of some boulders to climb on my next visit. Feeling satisfied with my day, I sat at one of the many restaurants to fill my belly with treats before heading home. Unfortunately the restaurant I chose did not have pictures in their menu, so I just picked a line and pointed. The meal turned out to be tofu and kimchi - not my idea of an excellent meal. I ate as much as I could and drank from my bottle of "Cass Fresh" to put an end on my day (at least the beer was good!).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Joe and I went to the hospital Thursday morning to get our physical, where they hilariously (not really) thought I was the hagwon manager who was transporting Joe around. We went to a Chinese restaurant in Lafesta afterwards, and this is what it looked like after I robbed the soup of noodles. Joe calls it '(Christine and Joe in the) 20,000 leagues under the (hot red chili peppered) sea.'

Seriously, baby octopus floating around.

Showing how much water two people can possibly drink within a half hour. This was not a good day for us.

This is aptly titled Riley, because the little white dog in rabbit skin looks like him. Joe disagrees, but I sometimes think Joe is wrong. There's tons of cute shops around Korea - this one was called Morning Glory, which is a huge stationary chain store in Korea that sells...everything.

Korea is actually quite infamous for Konglish, or sometimes just out right inappropriate shirts (we saw a guy tonight with a shirt that said Grand Clit's Delight). English is not their native tongue and many of them just suck at it. So it doesn't really matter what's written on it. We have noticed a lot of Michigan football t-shirts around here and agreed that Koreans, for some reason, like UCLA and Berkeley, quite enjoy Michigan.

But this was something special. We were walking down from the Chinese restaurant and in the display case of one of the clothing stores downstairs, was an Indiana shirt. "Indiana Delta-Zeta, Delta-Upsilon, Homecoming 89." Most random, but awesome shirt.

Also, because I think this is important:

It's a youtube video of the boy band group 'Big Bang,' whose song 'Haru Haru (Day by Day)' has somewhat ruined my life. Big Bang is so, well, big in Korea that the children we work with commonly say "I would die without Big Bang in my life" or "Big Bang is my life." It's a decent dance song. If you don't have the patience, you should listen past the 2minute mark.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This has nothing to do with Korea except that I miss my dog

This picture just had to be posted. Baby Aiden meets baby Sawyer!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What do you mean, you don't like spam?

Happy Chuseok to you! It is the Korean Thanksgiving today, which means two things for us. First, the CEO of our Hogwan gave everyone a big gift for Chuseok. This year, it was a giant box of spam. And not just any spam - Korean spam. Really I don't know if there is a differnce other than the writing is in Korean, but I am looking at the novelty factor. And since Christine and I both work for L*Bridge we were able to double our fun. Honestly, I had never had spam before this gift. Fry it with some eggs and you have an edible meal. I'm not trying to say it was a five star dining experience, but it did the trick. We have regular spam, garlic spam, lunch meat spam, and red chili pepper spam. I know it will come in handy at the end of the month when we are waiting for our paychecks.

Second, Chuseok means that we get a four day break. Although we just got here, it will be nice for a little break. Christine helped me find two climbing gyms yesterday, although both were closed. I may reattempt to go to the closer one tomorrow, seeing as how I have the day off. Today, we went to Bukhansan National Park just outside of Seoul. We went today to try to beat the crowd since a lot of people were with family today. Bushansan National Park holds the Guinness Book of World Records as the busiest National Park in the world.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Are you ready for some Futbol

OK, so John Madden wasn't here to commentate on this game of Futbol - but this is probably a good thing. Our boss, Sun, asked me yesterday during work if I wanted to play soccer with his group Thursday morning. Without putting much thought into it, I said "sure, that sounds fun!" In my mind I was thinking, "wow, this would be a great way to meet other people, get some exercise, and do something new." Once I started thinking more about it, I realized how I may have made a terrible mistake. America doesn't glamorize soccer like they do other sports. Having gained a keen interest in American Football, I didn't follow or play soccer. Now move over to Korea, and soccer is all the rave here. Just about every kid plays soccer to some degree (I have been teaching adverbs of frequency so I have found this out..."I sometimes play soccer, I always constantly play soccer......")

I met my driver at 7:30 this morning to go to the soccer field. We picked up a couple of other people that were joining us in the game as well. Luckily to my surprise, they were all native English speakers. This meant that if nothing else, I had three other guys that I could carry on a conversation with in English. We got to the field to play and began warming up. One of the other players asked me what position I play. Thinking quickly, I responded..."I don't." This set the tempo for the rest of the game.

Long story short, they took it easy on me today. Some of the players were really good, while others were just out there like me (they wanted enough people to play the game). I also realized how incredibly cool our boss is. He has done all he can to make sure that Christine and I adjust well to Korea (sometimes treating us better than other teachers). At one point in the game, a player twisted his ankle. Sun was the first one to run over to help this guy out. While we were all catching our breath, Sun walked this guy to the sideline to make sure he could rest. And it wasn't as if he was doing this because he was head honcho either - the president of all L*Bridge Campuses played as well.

I never made a goal (never attempted one for that matter) and I only made a few decent passes and steals. Most of the players went for lunch after the game. The president of our school always buys lunch for everyone after they play. I turned down the offer because the other English speaking players also turned down this offer. They lived near me, so we shared a cab ride back home. I may continue to play soccer as the year goes on or I may decide to quit while I'm ahead. I still haven't decided. What I do know is I don't expect to be playing for the American National Soccer Team anytime soon.

Monday, September 8, 2008

our beautiful apartment

Our dorm like Door

Our hallway - fridge door is hidden (guess where), bathroom on the left, kitchen on the right

Ta-da! Fridge opens. Looks like a closet door when closed.

Our cute bathroom, with stuff left over from previous tenants

Pretty obvious...the toilet. But Grandpa Means would be so proud of this bathroom. Not only is that contraption above the toilet a working telephone, but it's also is a radio. Not that I can listen to many of the stations, but there is at least one that is in English (50's Pop music rocks!) Yay dancing in the showers.

Very high ceilings

View out the window + Joe's laundry air drying

Joe photo. Joe sitting with my computer.

View out the window. Yep, more concrete.

Our staircase that leads to our bedroom

You go upstairs and...

Our bed and my clothes hanging

Joe's clothes way back in the hallway upstairs

About Me

We are both living in South Korea teaching English as a second language to elementary aged students. We arrived in September 2008 to work at L*Bridge for one year. It's like a reality TV show without the cameras and obscene backstabbing. See you in 2009!