Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Seoul Trip #5 / Hyehwa shopping action

After the long but awesome trek, Paula and I went shopping in the Hyehwa area of northern Seoul. Hyehwa's a special place for us because our Orientation site was nearby at the National Institute for International Education.

A typical Saturday night. This pic and the one below come from the side street. Though the main streets of Seoul boast some fine stores, it seems as though the real action is on the much narrower side streets.

The main street.

Seoul Trip #5 / Gimpo DMZ Action

Paula took these pictures. They're from the DMZ Tracking Festival trip we took in Seoul. We did this on 5 Nov 2011.

Along the way there.

In front of an ROK tank.

There was a marching band performance on this football/soccer field before the hiking began. Various soldiers were there too. Here's me and gillie suit man.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The upcoming Seoul trip #8 / Updates / "The Quirks of Being a Korean"

  • There'll be more pictures to come soon enough. Much as I want to get them on here ASAP, stuff keeps coming up.
  • I'll be in Seoul again for the weekend because Paula and I have some German markets to check out. It should go well. We're returning to this place, http://www.openguesthouse.com/, because their accomodations rock.
  • A tentative list/time table of upcoming posts:
    • The semester has been drawing to a close here and I suppose it's time to reflect on these first few months. Expect more stuff about school life.
    • More pictures from the Seoul trips.
    • A bunch of K-pop album reviews. These should've been written sooner. Frankly, if Motown and the 60s heralded the Golden Age of Girl Groups, then I'm living in the Second Golden Age of Girl Groups here in Korea. Never before have I heard so much decent pop music on the radio. The Wonder Girls, Girls' Generation, Brown Eyed Girls, and of course, 2NE1 all have excellent material out there.
      • The boy bands aren't bad either; not to slight them or anything (Super Junior and BEAST rock), but the girl groups have the musical and the visual appeal. I like the way they look.
  • Finally, this article about daily life in Korea.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Seoul Trip #7 / Happy Thanksgiving!

[Updated 6 December with more photos and a paragraph about the Record and CD Fair in Seoul]
Today marks my third month in Korea. What looks like a quarter of a year on the calendar feels like a lifetime inside my head. I guess it's fitting that today's Thanksgiving Day, since it's the day where we all reflect on where we are and what we're thankful for. Many things have happened in these 3 months. It's time to give thanks.

I'm thankful for my dear family and friends. Thankful for being here. I wouldn't be here without you. You know who you are.

I'm thankful for my wonderful co-teachers and fellow colleagues at the high school and the middle school. They comprise a wonderful and dedicated group of people. Just two hours ago Mr. Park and I finished a delicous Korean chicken dinner. The soju and the conversation flowed, I'm happy to say.

I'm thankful for my students; without whom this job just wouldn't exist. Despite the myriad barriers with language and culture, these kids are some of the best out there. If only I knew more of their names. With 5 grades and 275+ students, it hasn't been easy, but I get a few more with each passing week. Still, they make the effort. At 14 weeks in, their confidence with speaking and reading has increased. They say hello, they ask, "how are you?", they stop me on the street to ask--in English--where I'm going, and they gamely participate in every class. Lately I've tried some tough difficult lessons with the high school classes, lessons that would prove tough for kids in the States, but they tried them anyway. One student, while responding to a questionaire about his Zodiac sign, wrote that he's lazy because it's difficult to work hard. Now there's an astute observation. I told him "Yes, Joo Yong, it is difficult to work hard. Nice work!" Such a thought's the furthest thing from lazy...and to think that he did it in a foreign language, well hell, that's pretty good.

On a final note, I'm thankful for what I've got here in Korea. It can be a strange place, but it's never dull. I love it here.

Also: last weekend: Paula and I spent the weekend in the Gangnam area of Seoul last weekend. Gangnam literally means "River south," for it's in the middle south area of Seoul. The southern side of the Han river makes up the "new Seoul," too. It's a highly developed and modern area.

She came into town for a DMZ tour and I came in for the 1st annual Seoul Record and CD Fair. The Record and CD Fair didn't go quite as well as I'd thought, but she did have fun at the DMZ. We both enjoyed Gangnam though. It's a densely packed area of wide boulevards with tall office buildings and labrythine side streets crammed with bars and restaurants. Check it out...again, I'm not going resize the pictures because I want to get the full effect of the city across:

The above two pictures: Gangnam Dae Ro. The main street by the hotel.

Street sign marking the side street that our hotel was on.
Inside the Seoho Hotel.

Yes, this place exists: the Drunken Bro bar. Thankfully, we didn't see any drunken American bros there. Whew!

Shopping action on Gangnam Dae Ro.
Sidewalk sales galore.
Paula came to Seoul to for another DMZ tour and I came there for this: the 1st ever Record and CD Fair in Seoul. Despite my initial excitement about seeing more K-pop and LPs, I was disappointed by the fair. As you can see, it was quite crowded--so crowded that there was no point in looking at the LPs along the floor. Never mind that there was no room to even pick up a CD...not that that mattered either. I don't want to sound overly picky, but I didn't see much of anything worth buying. While yes, there were plenty of CDs to choose from, I found the place sorely lacking in rock and roll and K-pop. In other words there were no Stones, no Wonder Girls, no Ramones and no 2NE1. And what's more, the directions on http://recordfair.kr/blog/ [in Korean, but you can go to Google Translate and paste the address into it and translate the page to English] were horrible. I had to go up and down the street five times and ask four people before a generous businessman helped me find the place. And even then, he had to call the number to confirm the location. Not good. The counter people who took my 10,000won (~$9) admission fee were apologetic about my troubles with finding the place, but even so, it shouldn't have been do difficult to find the place. There was at just one good thing about the fair though: live blues music. Electric blues with Korean vocals, to be exact. It sounded good...too bad there was no room to enjoy it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Seoul Day Trip / Seoul Journey #6

It's been over a couple of weeks since I've written and posted on here. Much as I'm loathe to use the sentence, "I've been busy," it's true. There's no such thing as a normal week here (or anywhere where teacher's concerned for that matter, but still...) and I haven't had much time to get pictures and words together to post here. This week alone has been among the busiest:

- Monday: teacher's dinner to celebrate/commemorate Thursday's SAT test for the high school kids. The SAT is a huge deal here and the kids take it very seriously. My HS went out for dinner and drinks. And after that? We finally got back to the karaoke room! It was about bloody time, I'd say.

Tuesday: dinner and drinks with my two co-teachers and two other teachers who are in my office. Again, an excellent time.

Wednesday: watched TV and drank beer with my MS's art teacher. He knows our EPIK group in Cheorwon and likes to practice his English, so we talked and watched Bones with Korean subtitles. It felt good to see some TV shows that I used to watch before I left America.

Friday: the Office of Education took us EPIK'ers and our co-teachers out to dinner (and, of course, drinks. In Korea, it goes without saying) after Scott and his co-teacher's demonstration class. And after that, we EPIK'ers went to the bar for a bit before I caught the bus home from Dongsong.

And today?

I took a day trip to Seoul today so I could meet up with some friends and check out a few record stores that I'd heard about. Usually I resize the pictures to make them a bit easier to see, but this time I didn't resize anything because I think the bigger pictures help foreground just how busy Seoul is on a Saturday afternoon.

Lunch went well. I did indeed find the record stores, too.

View outside the Namdaemun Market. Note the traffic and the Shinsegae Department Store in the background. Shinsegae's one of the big three dept stores in Korea. The other two are Hyundai and Lotte. Over here, department stores are quite different from the Boston Stores, Kohls and the JC Penneys in the US. Instead of being known for discounted or inexpensive stuff, like US stores are, the Korean dept. stores are known their glamour and for their high price tags. And their seemingly endless selection--that building is the store. Last week, Paula and I wandered through the equally big (and expensive) Hyundai Dept. Store in Sinchon and I thought, "well, this must be what it's look to shop on 5th Ave. in New York or something similar." The place just never seemed to end. It had floor after floor of clothes, housewares, and sporting goods.

Some insights into Korean parking jobs in Seoul. See the street on the left? To park, you turn and drive on the sidewalk for a bit before parking on an incline.

A beauty store called Skin Food? Hey, it's Korea. I'll go with it. Taken near Hongik University.

The area/market near Hongik U. Yes, people actually drive on these narrow streets amidst throngs of people.

More of the Hongik U market.

There'll be more to come. With Korea, there's always more. Today's trip marked Seoul journey #6:

#1 - 1st Orientation--late August
#2 - buying the guitar
#3 - 2nd Orientation/hanging out with Aly--late September.
#4 - wandering around Insadong/Daehok Ro with Paula--mid October.
#5 - DMZ tracking fest plus shopping near Hyehwa and Dongdaemun with Paula--last week.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Visiting Hwacheon

This past weekend I visited Paula and got to see some her beautiful town of Hwacheon. We drank the beers we bought in Chuncheon and did some sightseeing.

The courtyard of the elementary school she lives next to. Her building's in the distance on the left. She doesn't teach at the elementary school though; she teaches at Hwacheon High School.

The pretty mountains.

Seoul Pt. 2: Chungdeok Palace

In front of a statue of a turtle at the Chungdeok Palace. If you look closely, you can make out what looks like a faint smile and round Monopoly guy classes. At least, that's what I thought when I saw them.

With Paula at the Palace.

The lotus pond in all its serene glory.

The green house.

Inside the green house.

Paula holding the biggest leaf we'd ever seen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Look Ma, they've got the Carlo!

This one's for my dear mother and her wine of choice, Carlo Rossi. While shopping at E-Mart in Chuncheon over the weekend, I spied those same jugs we see all over Wisconsin. It may not be the Rhine wine, but I was thrilled as hell to see sangria here. E-Mart sells the 1.5L jugs for 14,000 won, or roughly 12 dollars.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

DMZ action and a weekend in Seoul

Tonight I'm letting the pictures do the talking because I'm still recovering from last night's teacher's dinner. I want to get this out here though:

My high school took a field trip to the DMZ last Thursday. Here I am with a couple of soldiers from the base were on. From this post, we could see North Korea, and as a student of history I must say I treasured the opportunity to see the area.

After the DMZ we drove back to Wasu/Gimhwa. The teachers had lunch and we went to a park nearby for a while. Pic taken at a Korean War memorial in Gimhwa.

More to come later.

The weekend in Seoul...

Fellow EPIK'er Paula and I met up in Seoul on Saturday. We spent Saturday and Sunday wandering around Jongno-gu and the Dongdaemun areas. On Sunday we checked out the Changgyeong Palace:

Again, more to come later!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mountain climbing and galbi!

The school staff and I went mountain hiking on Mt. Myeongseong Wednesday afternoon. Day II of mid-terms had finished and the principal wanted to celebrate...Had one hell of a good time talking to the teachers and enjoying the scenery. The meadow at the top looked gorgeous and the views couldn't be beat. These were snapped about 3/4 of the way up. The rocky and sometimes steep path turned into a rolling meadow. When I got to the top I cried out "YEAH!" because, well, sometimes you have to do something like that when it's your first time climbing a mountain. If you know the bit in Rocky where he climbs up those steps after a long workout--or if you've done some climbing yourself, you know the feeling.

More pics will come as I get them. For now, here's a few taken on the way up:

I didn't know this picture was being taken. I'd snapped a photo on the cell phone and was looking to see how it turned out when Ms. Kim (purple sweater) and Ms. Yeo decided to catch me in the act.

W/ Ms. Yeo (left) and Ms. Lee (right) on the way up the mountain. Lovely scenery!

w/ Ms. Kim and Ms. Yeo

w/ Ms. Yeo and Ms. Lee.
And then...

What happened after we got to the top? We walked back down and went to a large outdoor dinner and ate galbi (grilled beef that's been marinated overnight; simply delicious), drank soju, and sang karaoke. By now I've figured out the drinking rituals enough to move around on my own and do shots with people. It went down pretty well, I'd say. People seemed impressed. Again I ended up trading some more shots with the principal, or the gyojang seonsangnim, as they say in Korean. The dinner and drinks felt good after that strenuous hike.

A bit about drinking alcohol, Korean-style: in Korean culture, you never fill your own glass--someone else will do it for you in one of two ways. The first way involves asking "would you like more?" or not saying anything and filling the glass anyway. The second way has more intricacies: the first person offers the second person her glass, the second person takes it, then the first one fills it up. Person two drinks, then hands the glass back to person one so she can pour her a drink as well. Make sense?

In both instances drinks get accepted with both hands out of politeness. Older people can take one arm and put across the chest, pledge-style and accept the drink with the right hand, but most everyone does the two handed way. There's also a specific way of pouring the beer/soju/booze: basically, right hand grips the bottle and the left hand supports the neck. The bottle usually touches the glass, too.

This system took some getting used to, given the Western every-man-for-himself approach where we drink at will. The Korean way involves looking out for people and the drinking rituals show respect. They allow everyone to move around the table, too. The system does allow for people to gang up on each other, which sometimes happens with the male teachers offering drinks to the female teachers. Or it allows people to get each other drunk. Both things have happened. Now the system's second nature, but there are moments I'd frankly rather fill my own glass and not wait around. On the other hand, getting drinks offered to you means the other person likes you, so I'm okay with that.

Friday, October 7, 2011

My wonderful kids

My students drew me some pictures. Some markers and colored pencils got left out before class and so some of the girls Drew pictures during class yesterday. It distracted them from the lesson somewhat, but they did participate well and the class went smoothly. They showed them to me and I couldn't help but smile.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gimhwa school life

Some students relaxing on their lunch break:

With one of Mr. Kim's third grade HS students. Unfortunately I do not teach the third graders, but I do talk to them quite a bit in the hallways.

Orientation Pt. ___

Seoul / EPIK / 친구 (friends)

My dear friends the EPIK staffers. Above: Ellie (left) and JK (right)

Joomi. We had fun talking about the English lit. we read in college. She likes Hemingway--woohoo!

School dinners/school life

Another lovely couple of weeks have passed by and the fun hasn't stopped yet. One thing I can't help but love about this place is that almost everything happens at the last minute. Certainly this idea has all kinds of negative potential, but consider this: it's mid terms for the MS and HS kids this week, so yesterday left me with little else to do but show up and plan lessons. This, of course, felt good since it gave me some time to plan ahead and consult my co-teachers, but I also find slightly bored...until 10 minutes before the end of the day  my co-teacher Mr. Kim tells me that I'm invited to a teacher's dinner. My mood turned an instant 180: teacher's dinners mean three things: plenty of food, drink, and conversation. Last night was no exception. We converged on an elementary school turned farming co-op and ate magchang, (cow's large intestines), tofu, vegetables, kimchi, and pajeon (potato/vegetable pancakes). It all tasted pretty good. If I recall correctly, and please don't quote me on this, but the magchang seemed similar to chitlins. I should probably do some research on this one, but that'll come later. Either way, grilled magchang tastes similar to sausage but doesn't seem as filling.

There'll be more to come soon. Every time the weekend comes I think, great! I can write! but as much as I love writing here, there seems so much to do and see that I'm often too tired to type much here. With any luck I can get around to reviewing some K-Pop albums from Brown Eyed Girls, Girls' Generation, 2NE1, and 2PM. That and the pictures from Hwacheon I took last weekend.

Until then...

The guitar I bought in Seoul.

From Seoul:

At the Orientation I volunteered to lead my class group, 4A. Part of my duties included working with the Korean EPIK staff members and making announcements to the class. As part of the reward, I and the thre other class leaders got to do this: wear hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) at Deoksu Palace and bang a drum to kick off the changing of the guard ceremony.

Class 4A. A great group of people. EPIK staffers JK (left) and Ellie (right) in the red shirts. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Seoul again

The last post got delayed because of school business. To quickly recap, within the past week I've received my Alien Registration Card, set up the cell phone, and have set up the bank account.

I'm in Seoul now for Orientation until Monday. It's about 7:10am local time and 30 minutes until breakfast. A quick recap of yesterday and Tuesday:

Tuesday: Rode the 5:40 bus in from Seoul to Wasu and had to hold on to the rails the entire way. The driver must've taxed the hell out of that engine, for he raced through the shifts and weaved in and out of traffic like the cops were after us. It felt exciting to ride as though you're in a Nissan 350Z and know you're in a coach bus. Basically, anything Chicago drivers do, this driver did. Weaves, three lane changes at a time, you name it. We hit Seoul's satellite cities around rush hour, so maybe that contributed to the frantic ride. Seoul's freeways and roads looked like anything in LA or New York, or for that matter, Milwaukee. Traffic everywhere.

The ride took 1:45 and I went straight to the subway station. About an hour and a train transfer later I stepped onto the platform at Oryu-dong station on the southeast side. Alyson met me there and we took a tour of her neighborhood in search of food and drink. We didn't find too much of either, though we did find decent home supply and grocery stores. Her neighborhood seems quiet for Seoul. A decent time all around.


Alyson showed me her school, Deogil Electronic Technical High School, before I left to catch the subway to the Orientation. Again, more easy subway action. It felt good to recognize some of the sights from last month when I arrived in the city. That and seeing/meeting new friends from around the English-speaking world.

Orientation commenced at 2:30.


Yesterday I hit the one month mark.

The Week In Review: Week 3, Chuncheon, Seoul, and more

Before I begin, I'll post a more complete post on the Chuncheon excursion at a later day...so much happens here that I'll have 239545 things to write one day and another 234585 things to say the next day. Maybe once I get Internet at the apartment I've have more time for this stuff. It probably sounds silly to worry about not writing enough on here but the writing itself eases the homesickness and provides a nice outlet for relaxing.

By now I've passed the 3 week mark and the non-stop whirlwind has slowed down somewhat as life here has gotten more familiar with each passing day.

Here's the highlights of the week:

  • The aforementioned Chuncheon rendezvous with Paula and eating our first Korean pizza.
  • Buying a guitar in Seoul. On Wednesday I picked up the bus to Seoul and took a day trip there to get a guitar and meet Alyson, another EPIK teacher, for dinner in her neighborhood. About a week before, one of my co-teachers had told me Seoul has a giant market called the Nagwon Arcade where vendors gather to sell musical instruments and equipment. He explained how to take the subway there and which station to stop at. It seemed simple enough so I went out and did it. At the Arcade I had the great fortune of running into my EPIK buddy Kurt and his wonderful Korean wife, Elise, who provided invaluable help with talking to the clerks. While Kurt and I tried out various guitars, she wheeled and dealed with the clerks. Damn can the Koreans bargain! In the end I bought an acoustic/electric with a stand, case, strap, strings, capo, cable, and picks for less than the guitar itself cost.

  • Meeting Alyson for a pizza. Elise again provided help with the subway directions. They were note-perfect. It felt good catching up and comparing notes on the first few weeks in our respective cities. The pineapple pizza tasted great and I got back to Dongseoul in time to catch the last bus back here...I can now say I've ridden the Seoul subways during rush hour and you know what, as packed as those trains get, they still get you there on time.

  • The simplicity and organization of Seoul's subway network knocks me out, for as byzantine as the network looks on a map, getting from place practically defines straightforward. All of the signs and directions (including the intercom systems on the trains) come written or spoken in English.

  • School's continuing to go well. It makes me happy as hell to be there.
  • The food's wonderful, if spicy as hell. At meal times I drink my weight in water.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Alone in Wasu-ri, The Chuncheon Shopping Excursion, Mountain Roads, and K-Pop, Pt. 1

This post will go in two parts because I'm too tired to do it all in one go. The Chuseok (추석) holiday has kept rolling on and I'm off school until Thursday. Today saw a break from the easy-breezy days of Sunday and Monday because I took the bus to 춘천 to meet with an EPIK teacher, Paula, and do some shopping at the E-Mart. It felt good to get out of town and do something with someone else because I've outside of seeing my neighbors on Saturday, I've been largely alone in town on Saturday and Sunday. By largely, I mean that I saw some of my students in town and said hello to them, but I was otherwise alone. It certainly got lonely when I considered that I was the only foreigner in town and in a foreign country 6000+ miles away from family and friends in the States, but the time passed by quickly. There'll be a post on that soon enough, as I had my first successfully bought a Korean flag at a PX store by negotiating the language barrier with the shop owner. But anyway...

춘천 and the ride there: Holy hell was that road twisty. If you've ever played The Need For Speed, you'll know what I'm talking about: winding curves, rollercoaster hills, hairpin s-bends, and narrow roadways along an endlessly beautiful forest. Parts of the route wound along a man made lake. See below for an idea of what I'm talking about. I took these pics from the bus window:

Actually, I didn't get any pics of the best part--the water here's just a river. The bus moved too quickly through the hills for any decent shots of the lake to get taken...but hell, the greenery defines the world expansive. If any of us remember The Land Before Time with all those bucolic shots of the valleys and the forests, THAT is what Highway 56 from Wasu to Chuncheon looks like. You know how some people of a certain disposition look at parts of the USA and say, "this here's God's country"? This looked better.

Those hills, those hills...they're everywhere. And did mention that we took the crazily twisty road in a coach bus? Yes. A 5-speed manual bus, actually. The whole time going there I sat staring out the window thinking if only I had a car. If only Drew could get out here. We could tear this road up! For another movie reference, cue up the scene early in GoldenEye where Bond and Moneypenny get into a chase with that girl in a red Lotus. The road looked like that, only with forest everywhere. Not to belabor the point, but I've never seen such beauty before.

That's all for now...but I can't go home without getting this up here: The E-Mart excursion rocked and I brought home a load of goodies, including 3 K-Pop CDs from Girls' Generation, 2PM, and this band, 2NE1:

  Once I opened up the casing I knew I had to post a picture of what came with the CD. Look at this above...20 separate holographic postcards, a fan club card, and a mini booklet came with the CD. Who throws this much stuff in with a 6 song EP? The Rolling Stones packed postcards inside their Exile on Main St. LP, but even so, they weren't holographic. And Exile was a double LP. Double LPs were made for having extra stuff inside since they were supposed to comprise grand artistic statements. But an EP, well, 2NE1 clearly went the extra mile here.

 I've never seen CD packaging like this outside of Tool and Radiohead albums.

And the music? Pretty decent girl-group pop. The singing alternates between Korean and English and the girls throw in some good hooks in every song.

Good night!