Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sincheorwon, Cheorwon County, Gangwon-do

R and I went walking before lunch today and I went up the hundred-plus stairs of a big monument on the edge of town. The view couldn't get much better today. Beautiful.

The monument commemorates war veterans.

Monday, February 24, 2014

"Touring is never boring": Sintanri to Dongducheon on the Gyeongwon line

While getting Popeye's Chicken with some of the crew in Dongsong yesterday, an afternoon train ride came to mind. It didn't have any purposes aside from getting out of town for a while and for seeing the recently opened Baekmagoji Station of the Gyeongwon train line. The station is now the northernmost train station in South Korea. It was originally part of a longer train line that extended into what's now North Korea, but it had been shut down because of the war. The train line connects to Seoul's subway system at Dongducheon, a 45 minute ride away.

I formulated a plan to take the bus to Baekmagoji,  ride down to its Dongducheon terminus, and transfer to the subway. From there, I'd ride to either Uijeongbu or Dobongsan and catch a bus to Wasu from there. The entire loop took the afternoon to complete: I left Dongsong at 1:30 and returned to Wasu by 6:30pm. I took the 3005 Suyu bus from Dobongsan because it left sooner than the Uijeongbu one. I didn't actually get on at Baekmagoji though. I got mixed up and got on the train at Sintan-ri instead. For whatever reason, I'd thought Sintan-ri was the end of the line instead of Baekmagoji. Sintan's the second northernmost stop. It is the end of the bus line, though.

The bus ride actually passed Baekmagoji in all it's gleaming glory. The modern station stands in stark contrast to its rural surroundings. It also made Sintanri Station look ancient. I suppose that's so: The station was part of a train line that ran further north when Korea wasn't divided. The station looks more like a wooden cabin than anything else. Its rustic look fits in with the surrounding village. I arrived to find the station busy with afternoon hikers in full Day-glo regalia.* A quick look at the timetables said a train was coming in 15 minutes, so there was time to look around. I made a mental note to go hiking around here soon. All of the people meant some trails must be around.

I waited until the people cleared. Sintanri Station in February.

On the tracks, looking northward toward Baekmagoji Station.

[From Wikipedia]

I don't suppose there's much else to the travelogue here. It felt good to go on the road for a while. Being alone on the road made a nice change from putzing around the apartment on a Sunday afternoon. Moreover, going out meant seeing some Korean history firsthand. Kojects explains:
[Baekmagoji] is located just several kilometres south of the DMZ....The station was named after the Battle of White Horse, a battle between Chinese and UN forces during the Korean war in the area. 
Ever stand on a battlefield? It's a strange thing to contemplate standing on the ground of a former warzone, but I do it every day, thanks to living in Cheorwon. Add the proximity to the DMZ and it becomes something like this:

Above is a military checkpoint along the Dongsong-Sintanri bus route. It's just outside of Dongsong. The military's omnipresent here, but Cheorwon's not under martial law or anything like that. The bus didn't actually go through the checkpoint. It took the left turn and bypassed the checkpoint on its way to Sintanri.

Altogether, the trip went well. It's roundabout, but it's a way to spend an afternoon. Enjoy!

As always, some photos:

Sinmangri Station. Cozy, isn't it?

No idea what this place is.

The train itself. It had an interesting mixture of row and bench seats.

For further reading:

Korea Joongang Daily: "Coming around the mountain"


I'd been meaning to ride the train for a while, but had balked at the time necessary for it: Baekmagoji Station sits 15 minutes outside of Dongsong, which is itself a 50 minute (discounting wait times) bus ride from Wasu, so it's a long way away from Wasu. Still, Dave had sung its praises and it would indulge my affinities for sightseeing and history.


The train ride: 1000 won. Cheap.
Dongsong to Sintanri: 1300 with bus card.
Subway rides: ~1500.
Dobongsan to Wasu on the 3005 bus: 10,000.

I didn't write the place names in Korean because doing so would garble the text. Here they are:

Sintanri Station: 신탄리 역
Baekmagoji Station: 백마고지 역
Dongducheon Station: 동두천 역
Seoul: 서울
Wasu: 와수
Dongsong: 동송
Cheorwon: 철원

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

High school move in 2014

The hallway's alive with the cacophony of the incoming first grade students this morning. Though classes are out for the next week and a half, they're here to pick up their school uniforms, their textbooks, and move into their classrooms. Each student gets the standard desk and locker combo. It's similar in the US, although as I recall, many more parents would accompany their children there than in Korea. 

Here, the morning's as much about moving in as it is about socializing. One might think the students were reconnecting after having undergone a long summer away at various camps because of the overemotive banter, but no, that's just how they talk. The omnipresent hagwon and proximity of the small town mean that the kids have probably seen each other every day in the past couple weeks. So it goes here. 

Note: Unlike last year and the year before, I've met all of these students before as middle school students. I'll need to refresh the memory though, for I haven't taught the incoming girls in a year and, thanks to the shifting boys middle school schedules, there weren't many chances to teach the incoming boys. Still, they are not unknown. And I'm no stranger to them: They gave hearty hellos and greetings when I peered out into the hallway earlier. Let's hope the enthusiasm holds: High school's a hard three year slog in Korea and their English classes are about to get more challenging.

Friday, February 14, 2014

"Touring is never boring": Gwangju in January 2014 #1

First, some music to play while you read:

"Touring" (1981 version) from The Ramones. I took this post's title from the chorus of the song.

Please don't confuse this with Gwangju Station. Gwangju Songjeong Station is Gwangju Station's smaller counterpart. It sits on the west side of the city. KTX and Mugunghwa trains pass through it.

"...especially with your favorite girl..."

R and I spent part of our winter vacation in the southwestern city of Gwangju. It had been on our list of destinations for some time now, particularly because it was in a region of Korea we had not seen yet and because of its place in Korean history. The city played host to huge protests, as you'll see below.

Where we went

In the May 18 Memorial Park near our hotel in the Sangmu area. We had an enjoyable walk through it on the way to lunch.

This plaque is inset onto the sidewalk on Chungjang Street. The street was the site of the May 18 Uprising, whereupon citizens protested against then-dictator Chun Doo-hwan. Visit Korea has this to say: 
Named after the posthumous title of General Kim Deok-ryeong, Chungjangno Street was the site of the 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement. Today, it is Gwangju’s major fashion district, comparable with Myeongdong Street of Seoul. The streets of Chungjangno are lined with shopping malls, clothing stores, restaurants, cafes, movie theaters and various other attractions, providing the ultimate experience of modern culture in Gwangju. It is the city's hub of fashion, both trendy and traditional, as well as venue for diverse performances.

The Gwangju National Museum and a beautiful blue sky. Not a cloud to be seen. Note the snaking waterway. We saw plenty of old pottery inside. Serene stuff.

This picture's here for two reasons:
  1. I can't help taking pictures of cafes with unusual names.
  2. A college buddy and I used to make "Seven Howling Monkeys" from Seagrams 7 and the short-lived but delicious Howling Monkey cola.

Here's Caffe Soo, the cafe run by the parents of Miss A's Suzy. R and I love to visit the local cafes, and this was one she just had to see. Okay, okay: I did too...I've always liked Miss A's music and I can always do some cafe action. Suzy is also the most popular of the Kpop girls among my boys. When we dropped by, we noted with amazement that she also starred in Architecture 101, one of our favorite Korean movies. We stayed for a while and gazed upon all of the memorabilia inside: It's a fan's dream, to say the least. See below for links to a couple blogs with photos from inside the cafe. (It's not possible to post them here for some reason)

And yes, the drinks were good. My banana juice was as cool and fresh; R's green tea latte tasted good too! As an added bonus, we received cookies when we left as "service." If only we'd eaten them inside! They were excellent. As R said, "You can taste the butter." 

[Her group's also popular, but she's only member anyone here talks about. I'm at a loss as to why, for all four members can sing and dance quite well. Kirsten once noted their sexiness and moxie, and I can't help but concur. I've written about them here:]

A note about traveling there: It's located across the street from a library in a not-so-central neighborhood. We took a cab there. The links below do have directions. Also: If you plan to eat dinner afterwards, we can recommend a good barbecue place nearby, but that's it.


As always, we sampled the local libations. This makgeolli's the best I've tasted anywhere in Korea. It's also all-natural.

That's all for part #1. More's on the way!

End of the 2013 school year / Updates for 14 Feb 2014

Today's post will be short, but I've plenty more on the way. Now that the school year's over and two weeks of deskwarming await me after the weekend, I've a burst of inspiration for writing...

Like yesterday, today was a shortened day for the students here. They attended school for the first half of the day, received their textbooks for next year, and moved their things into their new classrooms. That's about all that happened today from what I've discerned. My dear second graders are moving up the academic boot camp that is third grade. I'll miss them because I don't teach HS third grade. The kids will survive, but they'll have to work for it. The third grade is a grueling slog of 12 hour days and interminable memorization..


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Graduation Day 2014

While today is the official day, its been coming for some time now. The Korean school year hasnt officially ended yet despite the conclusion of the second semester exams, and winter classes. All three of those things happened in January. The semester itself ended after Christmas. Moreover, the third grade HS students took their CSATs for college in November. Theyve been done for some time now.

The schools buzzing with activity. Students of every grade are conferring with the faculty. Many final preparations are underway. Meanwhile, Im watching everything from my desk because all I have to do is show up for the ceremony. Being the guest teacher has its peculiaritiesthese fly-on-the-wall scenes especially.

Todays the third graduation I will have witnessed. Its the one dearest to me because these students are the 1st graders I met in August in 2011. Theyre the group I had the pleasure of knowing for almost all of their HS careers. True, next years group will be the first group Ive known for all three years, but todays thrilling nonetheless. They were great to have in class because they took English seriously and they were the first group I got to know. Among them is a shy girl who came to me when shed been bullied. I had done a lesson on bullying around that time; maybe it spurred her to act. Another girl had been spreading rumors about her. She was beside herself. We talked for a while. Id advised her as best I could and told her ignore the other girl and to call the Korean helpline.

That was eighteen months ago. Today shes going to graduate and go on to a university in another province. Shes less shy, she speaks more confidently, and she walks straighter. Shell do well.

Id better go now. The fun starts in 20 minutes or so.

Additional notes:

Korean high school graduation ceremonies differ from their American counterparts in many ways:

  • No caps and gowns. The students received their diplomas their their uniforms, suits, or dresses. The suits and dresses aren't common in my experience, though.
  • It's short: This year's ceremony barely lasted 45 minutes, and it was, according to a co-teacher, a long ceremony!
  • The students receive their diplomas in groups. They also tend to receive any awards or scholarships when they're given their diplomas.
  • The students bow after receiving their diplomas, but unlike the Western fashion of bowing while facing the audience, the students bow toward their elders on the stage.
  • The students also receive their diplomas while facing away from the audience.
  • I can't speak to other schools, but my high school and girls middle school combined their ceremonies into one because they're on the same campus.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Changdeok Palace (창덕궁) in the winter

There came a weekend in December when I joined R in Seoul. While she met friends and went shopping, I took advantage of our hotel's proximity to Changdeok Palace and paid it a visit. Despite being one of Seoul's finest palaces, it didn't have too many visitors on this bright Saturday. Tour groups were here and there, but their scarcity only propounded Changdeok's vastness. Its size made wandering the grounds quite fun. I enjoyed being alone in its courtyards and shadows.

See more here: