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

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Reasons why Ilsan is awesome

Ilsan, I think we're starting to realize, is one of the coolest places to live in Korea for several reasons. One of them is because of La Festa, a shopping / cafe / restaurant district that is literally a block away from our apartment. It's the place to be every night, regardless of the day of the week. It's four stories high, has section A - F, and shows that Koreans put a lot of emphasis on "having a good time." For instance, after coming back from our long trip to Seoul yesterday (we were exhausted), we went to a board game cafe in La Festa where I taught Joe how to play Settlers of Catan (Banneker should be proud). Afterwards, I went shopping for clothes, we went inside a Cute Shop, and watched drunk people.

Here's a couple of other photos of La Festa:

This is a placed called Western Dom (yes, they misspelled it). Same idea - tons of shopping, cafes, ethnic food, bars, movie theaters, DVD room, and so on.

Western Dom has some pretty cool architecture. Most of Korea is an artificial, concrete jungle, but places like Ilsan, which is relatively a new city, is filled with contemporary architecture, which to midwesterners like us, look futuristic.

Friday, September 5, 2008


Mmmmm Kimbab. My newest favorite fast food. It consists of a seaweed roll, rice, vegetables, and usually some type of meat. Seriously, it is amazing. Luckily this is a cheap dish in Ilsan, as is most Korean food. Christine and I can usually eat a dinner together for roughly 10,000 won (~$8.05 USD). Last night we ate dinner at a restraunt just outside of the school (we have a two hour break in classes on Tuesday and Thursday evening). Aside from Kimbab, we also ordered a soup that I keep forgetting the name of. I've had it twice now since we have been in South Korea and it would totally kick chicken noodle soup's butt.

The nicest thing about dinning out in Korea is that you do not tip the waiter. I'm not saying you are supposed to be mean to the waiter, but it is just not customary to tip. Also, the small amount of tax is already included in the price of the meal or whatever else you are purchasing. So, when you see something that is 3,000 won, it will only cost you 3,000. This includes delivery...no charge for delivery! We are still eating out for most meals as this seems to be the cheapest route so far. It is also nice to come home from work and not have to worry about cooking a meal.

Monday, September 1, 2008

(Hello Earth)

Hello from Korea! Joe and I arrived late last night at Incheon International Airport, which looks something like this. It's a google photo. We'll post pictures as soon as we settle down and figure out how we're going to charge my laptop.

Our director, Sun, picked us up from the airport. He's a young guy who showed up in jeans and a baseball cap and also, as we figured out on our drive back, a very funny, honest guy. He helped us find a hotel room (we can't move into our apartment until tomorrow - the previous tenants haven't moved out yet), picked us up this morning for work, dropped us off after work, and is helping us move tomorrow.

We started work today. We got oriented by Doug and Annie, the couple we're replacing. The first few hours were spent frantically making copies of syllabus, homework guidelines, and workbooks. We were both assigned desks with computers. We both have about 6 classes on Mondays and Wednesday, 40 minutes each, spread throughout 8 hours. It's not as bad as I imagined. The English level of each class varies, as does the age group. My favorite was my last class, which was comprised of a bunch of rowdy 6th graders who weren't shy about answering questions. We were also provided free dinner! We start classes at 2pm tomorrow, with only 5 classes and a two hour dinner break.

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!