Korean


Last Thursday was the field trip to the transportation safety education center (this is the term I’m using since my coworkers were confused about an adequate translation). This was actually the shortest and most uneventful field trip yet. The center is located in Omomkgyo which is only 20 minutes away.

I was thankful for this short duration as the continuous repetition of “Wheels on the Bus go ‘Round and ‘Round” was quickly draining my cognitive reserve as well as my consistently mellow temperament. Our driver was the same one that will give some of us a ride back to our apartments on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I really enjoy his constant smile and cheerful attitude but his head-bobbing and waving of hands to the simple repeated children’s tune was slightly off-setting. Another 15 minutes more and I would have burnt out my typically gigantic well of patience and the fun factor would have taken a significant drop for all parties involved.

The field trip started with viewing a cheesy Korean anime about magic traffic light people who taught about how not to get hit by cars or other forms of transportation. It was all in Korean so I pretty much just dialed out for a bit, didn’t seem like I was missing much as even the kids quickly lost interest.

After the film we partook in some practice exercises and had numerous street-crossing demonstrations. I understand the necessity of instilling in these kids a healthy respect of the dangers of traffic here. This is a city of almost 12 million touting one of the highest population densities and where pedestrians don’t even have the right of way. Add on to this the ever-present scooters weaving between pedestrians on the sidewalk and red lights that seem more like a suggestion than a rigidly enforced rule sometime.

Couple this environment with a society that treasures their children and places a huge emphasis on their protection. I completely understand why so much extra education is geared towards being aware of the dangers presented by vehicles. Unfortunately this knowledge did nothing to alleviate my boredom. Common sense lessons in basic safety are devastatingly dull, especially in a foreign language.

Luckily enough the field trip concluded with a round of chaotic soccer and a trip to the large big-toy playground and the conclusion was quite entertaining. Huzzah!

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I’m sure most of you have heard of Rockabilly. Born in the early 1950s in rural America, specifically the Southern states. This blues and western swing influenced genre gains its name from the blending of Rock and Hillbilly and the term Rockabilly was originally an insulting term brandished against the early pioneers. Like many such slurs (think Yankee) it was embraced by the very people it was supposed to slight. I was a big fan of the Living End, Tiger Army and the Reverend Horton Heat back in my high school days but had thought those days of fandom were behind me. I was wrong.

This newfound appreciation was due to one epic catalyst known as the Rocktigers. This Korean outfit has even coined a new name for a subgenre within Rockabilly known as Kimchibilly. They play fast, vibrant tunes and the charisma blazing during their stand up bass solos, furious behind the head guitar riffs and wailing tunes of their lead singer truly gets you caught up in the moment. It doesn’t hurt that the charming frontwoman Velvet Geena is mischievously beautiful and quite willing to talk to any fan with a contagious enthusiasm.

I’ve been to two of their shows so far and always have a good time. Sometimes it takes putting a whole new spin on an old favorite to rekindle the love affair, but I’m glad to be a fan of Rockabilly once more. I just had to travel halfway across the globe to find some savage Asian musicians who were fed up with Kpop and ready to blaze a new trail by making inroads to a somewhat forgotten style of American Rock.

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This weekend was outstanding and one of my favorite so far in Seoul because it featured me partaking in two of my favorite pasttimes: hiking and shows. I’ll get to the show in my next post but I want to use this one just to detail the sheer epicness that is Bukhansan.

Standing over 200m above sea level at its highest peak and spanning a vast area of 78.45 sq km this is no measly park. With over 100 different routes going to a multitude of different peaks and connecting traverses, I can definitely see myself investing quite a bit of time here from now into the months leading up to Winter.

That morning I woke up and treated myself to a homemade breakfast of baked beans, eggs over easy, toast and caramelized garlic, onion, red peppers. As I finished this hearty meal I realized I was full but not really satisfied. Sometimes my hankering to do a certain activity sneaks up on me and it takes me a minute to recognize what it is I’m jonesing to do. As I washed the dishes it struck me, the weather was great outside, I had been here three months…and I had yet to do any hiking (trampoling is the term I learned in New Zealand and the most charming term for this activity in my opinion).

From my subway station in Youngdeungpo-gu the trip only had one transfer at Hapjeong and took  less than half an hour to arrive at my destination, Dokbawi station (line 6, stop #613). Just one of the wondrous things about this country is how you have this gigantic wilderness areas with hiking and camping just off the subway line. As I got closer and closer to my stop more and more people sporting North Face (or the local Red Face brand) backpacks and boots, Patagonia outdoor apparel and hiking poles file into the subway. I had forgotten my directions from the subway station to the trail-head but this did not present too much of a problem as I just followed the steady stream of hikers making their way towards the mountain.

I’m a fairly adept hiker but the first 45 minutes are always the hardest, unless you are doing a real grueling trek of like ten plus miles (adept for an amateur…). You seem to be sweating the hardest and finding your rhythm during this stage. I haven’t gone on a good hike for about 4 months and was definitely feeling rusty that first hour. Heart was beating, breath was a heavy pant and I definitely drew some amused chuckles from the ajumma and ajeossi (old women and men) sharing the trail with me.

I reached the summit (one of dozens of peaks within Bukhansan) within an hour of starting. The view justified the original hiccups finding my pace and then some. I chatted for a while with a 3M business men about good hikes, what brought me to Korea and the benefits of travel. So many people I encounter here seem to really enjoy a good conversation and are eager to utilize what English they know.

After bidding him goodbye I walked over to a different vantage within a cloud of dragonfly/butterfly swarms and took the occasion to sit down and hydrate. Within five minutes I noticed a late middle-aged Korean man walking around the summit picking up any bits of trash with a long pair of tongs. As he drew near me he inquired “You are a foreigner and hiking alone?”, I laughed and responded in the positive. He seem quite impressed when I informed him I had only been in the country for three months and this was my first hiking excursion. He then chided me “You should not hike by yourself! I hike by myself but live at the base of this mountain and hike it every weekend.” He sat down next to me and we sat in silence reflecting on the view for a solemn few minutes.

I broke the silence by offering some of the peanuts I had brought with me for a light lunch break. He thanked me and offered some tea. Asking him what type it was brought a perplexed countenance to his face but after a minute on his smartphone he proclaimed that it was Buckwheat jelly tea. With some trepidation I politely accepted and was pleasantly surprised. Green in color with a complex and hearty taste it was quite good. With this exchange of sustenance done he offered to show me around the nearby peaks and valleys.

Sung was self-taught in English via books and the local EBT (English Broadcast Channel) learning programs. He was in great shape and engaged in the perfect amount of conversation. I don’t consider myself anti-social but I love those reflective moments during a good hike when you are just focused on the movement of your limbs and savoring the scenery around you. During our 2-3 hours of hiking I watched as he picked up about 3 pounds in litter. He showed me some of the rock-climbing spots and a grand little creekside rest stop to soak our feet and splash some cool, fast-flowing alpine water on our faces and arms.

I was truly fortunate to have him as a guide and he is another great example of the hospitality and cheerful good-will I have experienced from complete strangers here in Korea. Our hike ended with showing me a small Buddhist temple at the end of the hike and escorting me to the subway stop with was no small act of kindness since I did not see a winding line of hikers going back to the subway at this point. All in all a most satisfying and productive day and the

Finally got a moment of respite from the marathon teaching that was last week. This is shaping up to be a great work week as we had Monday off for Korean independence day, some of you may have taken note of this is you saw Google’s homepage giving props to the flag. Thursday and Friday all my afternoon classes have the singing contest so no real intensive classes then and on Friday all morning classes have the pajama party, my kindergarten coteacher and I are in charge of cooking classes so we’re teaching them all how to make  canapés for the entire session.

Enough about SLP though I still need to recap my Busan vacation at the beginning of this month. Our (I was accompanied by 4 of my coworkers) train going down to Busan actually left at 10:30 instead of 9:50 as we originally thought so we made it to the departing station in downtown central Seoul in no time. We were riding on the KTX and I had never ridden on a bullet train before so this was quite a novel experience.

To travel from Seoul which is near the Northwest corner of Korea all the way down to Busan on the opposite end of the country takes only about 3 hours including the numerous stops at stations to pick up more passengers along the way. You really don’t comprehend exactly how fast you are moving as you look out onto the landscape in the distance. Then you focus on the scenery passing by in a closer proximity to the train and suffer a wave of vertigo as everything just becomes a blur of movement.

Upon arrival we hailed a cab and cruised out to our hotel. This is peak vacation season and we had just managed to snag one of the last hotel rooms available. The price was really cheap but the hotel was located in an odd spot of town where very few foreigners visit. It did kind of feel like I was in an odd ’80s communist era hotel but the beds were comfortable and the AC was efficient so I can’t complain.

We spent a total of three nights in Busan. During the day we hit up many beaches including the most popular beach Haundae. This was by far the most crowded beach that I have ever been on in my life. A sea of parasols and beach mats covered most of the available square footage and the always present lifeguards on jet skis not letting swimmers past 6-7 feet deep roamed the waters like sharks waiting outside a reef. The sound of families, soju intoxicated college kids and fellow expats was a constant drone. While exciting and spring-breakesque this wasn’t really my idea of the perfect beach.

Vacation seaside frenzy.

In comparison to this the next day was quite a difference as we went out to Songjeong beach and had another day of soaking up some rays. This beach is far more family orientated and much less crowded. Had some decent nostalgia stirred up upon seeing all the kids making moat-encircled sand castles by the water line. I decided to invest in one of the intertube rentals for $5 and was rewarded with a nice cool vantage point mostly above water gently bobbing in the sea. Spectacular.

One other great thing to note about this beach is that it was the only one I saw with an area roped off for surfing and had quite a few amateur Korean surfers trying to catch the small breakers coming in. I flashed a “shaka” but think this hawaiian greeting was lost in translation. I was kinda tempted to go hit up the surf shack on the other side of the road to rent a board but it wasn’t destined to be as we didn’t discover this part of the beach until nearer to sunset.

Bobbing on the intertube with my shades on was vacay bliss.

The next day I was feeling like I had my fill of beaches and decided to enrich the cultural aspect of this trip by visiting one of the local Buddhist temples. Haedong Yonggungsa is a unique temple to Korea in that it is the only Buddhist temple in this country that is located right on the coast. I had originally planned on visiting Beomeosa which is one of the “5 great temples of Korea” but its isolated location up in the mountains in Northern Busan and associated 1.5-2 hour one-way transit time was kinda discouraging. I didn’t regret my decision to opt for Yonggungsa the moment I stood at this tranquil viewpoint with the ocean breeze caressing my face.

The only seaside temple in Korea.

This is the first large Buddhist temple I have ever visited and I was quite impressed. The only one I had seen before this was the very small and quaint temple located within Boramae park two stops away from my hood. This temple had numerous sentinel-like sculptures leading up to the entrance to the temple steps once you finally made it through the long alley of stalls selling everything from sweet red-bean pastries to Buddhist amulets & bracelets and even iced apricot tea (I was intrigued).

A long set of steps followed leading down past small alters with old wax encrusted pillars and stonework lanterns cut from a white rock. A few smaller outdoor side shrines branched off until you reached a vista point and all of the sudden you could all of the sudden perceive the main temple complex pictured above and the panoramic sea view pictured below.

The sun was strong but the setting so serene you didn't notice the sweat.

Finally doing some culturally enriching sightseeing instead of just beaches and bar debauchery!

While here I felt a strong sense of fulfillment and pride. My father raised me Roman Catholic (no longer practicing) but always strongly urged me to visit as many temples, synagogues, cathedrals and mosques to truly gain an appreciation for the cultures that created them. The stories concerning the origins of this place as well as the values reflected in the architecture, layout religious artwork truly seemed to impress upon you some empathy for the civilization that created it.

This was the main one out of many different buddha statues. Some were small stone ones with rub-worn stone bellies due to generations of hands searching for good luck. Others were giant ebony totems right by the breaking ocean waves.

The general mood of the people was a joy to behold. From the old, stoic grandmother making her practiced bows in the inner shrine, to the sightseeing tourists soaking up part of their own culture and snapping dozens of photos  every few minutes, to the small children running around smiling and laughing everyone seemed very at peace. No one was rude or pushy in the lines like at the subway stations. Everyone just seemed to appreciate where they were and the moment they were living in.

Dear blog,

Sorry I’ve been neglecting you so much. I know, I know, you are my Hermes carrying messages back home and promoting my exploits here in Korea. Yes, I know, in twenty years when I am much more tied down and think back to times of wanderlust you will be a testament of inspiration for adventures of yesteryear. It’s just that I lost that camera cord and really wanted to upload photos so that the text wouldn’t stand alone. This last week especially has been really hectic at school as we’ve had two new teachers show up and they’ve been observing me so I’ve had to really put my game face on. That paired with fact that it’s been the last week of the July session and I’ve had an increased classload has given me virtually no free time for blogging at school.

I’ll make it up to you by promising to put this and two other posts up this week. This first one will be the recap of mid-July and Marine Week in which our protagonist ventured out to the Aquarium at COEX with his awesome young linguists protegés the Cheetah class and battled the ocean/elements and made more expat friends from around the world at the Boryoeng Mud Festival.

First off, the aquarium was a complete blast! My kids were in high spirits and I had a delightful time watching them ohhh and ahhh at all the sharks, sea turtles, tropical fish, crocodiles and more. The AC was pumping out a cool flow and the humidity was low. Facilities were very modern and the fact that cost of entry is My aquatic buddies.usually $30 on the weekends made me thankful the school was picking up the bill on this one. Another one of my patented beaming smiles was let loose upon seeing the sea otter exhibit. I DIG SEA OTTERS in a big way. The way they sinuously move in the water makes me envious of a prowess at swimming I will never posses. Their features always seem to be mischievously smiling and mates hold paws when they sleep so that they don’t lose each other out on the open sea. There is no marine animal I would rather be than the carefree sea otter.

Cheetah class humming Under the Sea.

Boreyong was a blast. Our bus left Seoul at 7:30am and Noksapyeong is a good 45 minutes away via subway so we had to leave the apartments by 6:20 to play it safe. I pulled myself out of bed at 5:30 am to make a huge breakfast scramble consisting of 12 eggs, one zuchnni, two yellow onion, 4 Korean chili peppers, 1 orange bell pepper, 1 potato, basil, oregano and some Boulliard’s Louisiana hot sauce and Sriracha Thai chili sauce. A little power breakfast to help with the beginning of the forey. The bus ride was uneventful but I was filled with a lighthearted joy upon leaving Seoul for the first time since arriving.

I loved zoning out on road trips and just soaking up the passing scenery of Washington as a child. This trait is not lost to me as an adult and South Korea’s countryside had a lot to offer. From mist shrouded mountains clad in verdant tones of green fauna unfamiliar to me to terraced agricultural hills and small clusters of skyscrapers indicating small towns (everything is compact here, which I dig since I abhor suburban sprawl). After this panoramic ride of 2 1/2 hours we arrived at Boryeong at around 10:30.

We lucked out and our room was ready so our crew of 6 unloaded backpacks an threw on some trunks in the room. A mini-fridge, small stove, pile of bedding on hardwood floor and separate bathroom was definitely the smallest room I’ve shared with a group this size. After assessing the facilities we headed down to the beach. Our neglect to put any sunscreen on is shown in the peeling skin currently on my shoulders and the pink, new skin showing on my nose. The water was warm and the beach expansive with a chain of islands of varying sized reminding me of the San Juan back home. I dove in and made a cross-stroke beeline for the nearest buoy 50 yards out. At 30 yards I was jarred out of my rhythm by a Korean coast guard member on a jetski waving me back to shore. Guess they’re a little phobic of tourism fallout if some intoxicated waygook (foreigner) drowns during the festivities. Fair enough.

As for the actual mud festival section of the beach we didn’t spend a ton of time. $5 purchased entry to all the events like mud wrestling, mud slides and mud obstacle courses. Unfortunately this was the first day of festivities and the lines were lengthy so the only one we did was a slip and slide style race. I challenged my British buddy and had a glorious victory after a thirtyish foot long slide and scramble to the end. He claimed I had a false start, sore loser…haha. We painted ourselves with the provided cosmetic grade mud to help lessen the intensity of the sun but this proved to be in vain as Monsoon season rain reared it’s head and showered away our protective coating.

As the sun set we grabbed out bottles of cass, took a fortifying shot of Johnny Walker black label (they sell it in 7-11 here…) and changed out of our now filthy, smelling of the sea shorts to go grab some dinner. The bibimbap hit the spot and we meandered down to the beach to meet some Irish friends and their blokes. The opening night fireworks were phenomenal and I was very impressed with not only the size of the arsenal but the variety. Back home we don’t have shells that separate into a multitude of hearts or smiley faces on the horizon. Good times were had by all.

The next day we were tired of sand in our shorts and decided to go to the waterpark by the bus stop. My favorite ride was my first. However, I wasn’t used to the protocol and just thought it worked just like “Wild Waves” the Six Flags water/amusement park back home. I grabbed the bar and propelled myself down the tube. Bad move, here you are supposed to slowly lie down and let them push you to initiate the ride. I smacked my forehead on the top of the entry (good thing I’m thick-headed) but still managed to fly down the tube on the rushing water.

This tube did four consecutive circles (dizziness ensues not helped by blow to the noggin) and then spits you out into a large bowl. If you have ever seen the fundraising device where you put a coin in and the velocity makes it go around and round the bowl before dropping through the hole at the bottom you can picture this ride. I had more momentum than most due to my size and exuberant take off at the top so was spun about 4 times before falling through the hole into the pool at the bottom. Unbeknownst to me there was a life guard with a floatation device at the bottom who helps grab you and escort you to the exit. Makes sense considering the vertigo inducing dizziness of said ride. I however almost freaked out and started swinging when two hands grabbed me under the water, haha.

Mini panic attack and forced leave of the park was averted when I noticed the red lifeguard attire. Upon exiting two lifeguards were waiting questioning my state of health “Are you ok? Are you sure?”. Seems the lifeguard at the top had noticed me hit my head and had radioed her fellow employees bottom-side. I was laughing like a little kid and reassured them my condition was strong.

Many other slides and hijinks ensued and I also was pleasantly surprised to discover the sauna at the top which had around 70 separate water massage stations for your back, legs, shoulders and chest. Pretty savvy concept. The shoulder massage had a very strong flow and felt good to my muscles but extremely harsh on my sunburnt skin. We were all pretty burnt by the time we hopped on the bus back to Seoul. Koreans take extra precaution against sunburn and exposure to elements so the next day at class all my students were pointing and yelling “Red Teacher”!!!

Well blog, I hope this is a good start to making it up to you for not corresponding for some time. Tonight is another going away party in Itaewon for the last of the departing teachers finishing their contracts and leaving for home this Summer. A total of 7 teachers have concluded their time here and left for home since I’ve arrived. It’s been a little surreal just arriving and seeing so many people I’ve just met depart, also a little odd being considered the “veteran” amongst the new hires.

The going away party isn’t for another 7 hours so I think I’m finished with this post, ready to sign out of Facebook, watch one last video on Pitchfork TV and leave the “Interpark Soo” PC Bang (motto: The moment when after many years of hard work and a long voyage you stand in the centre of your room, house, half-acre, square mile, island, country, knowing at last how you got there, and say, I own this.) and go see some of Seoul. I think Boramae park or wandering around the grounds of a buddhist temple seems like the perfect idea right now. Cheers!

I hate to say it, but loss of life and property damage aside I was a little disappointed at the typhoon. Growing up on the West Coast I was quite curious at the concept of a Pacific Ocean hurricane. All in all I’ve been through much worse wind storms back home. This being said other areas of Korea were hit much harder than Seoul, my condolences go out to the families of the seven individuals who were killed or are currently missing in other parts of the country.

In completely unrelated news on Friday I was reading the Korean herald and noticed an article about government plans to cut college tuition costs by 30% by 2014. Considering the opposite is happening in the States I was pretty impressed. Hey politicians back home? Get your priorities right…

The highpoint of this last weekend was definitely my trip out to Jamsil stadium to catch the LG Twins play the SK Wyverns. I was joined by two of the new teachers (there have been three new teachers after my arrival, all female), or as my veteran coworkers call us “Saved By the Bell, the new class”. All three have just graduated university and are from Midwest or East Coast, so as a male ’07 graduate from WA state who worked for 3 years after college I am somewhat of an anomaly so far in the group.

We met up with one of the veterans from Canada who is unique in that he plays on the best ball hockey team in Korea (they recently won the tournament in Hong Kong and were dubbed “Champions of Asia”). This always reminds me of the movie Clerks with Dante and the gang playing on the roof of the Quick-Stop. One of our Korean supervisors also came out which was awesome because she was able to translate a lot of the chants for me.

"I'm not even supposed to be here today..."

While I was raised as a Mariners fan all my life and have seen them play at Safeco Field and it’s predecessor the Kingdome it has never been my favorite spectator sport. The constant breaks and slow rate of play paired with stretches of action-less innings and inane focus upon stats has always created a certain aversion in me. The high ticket prices and exorbitant cost of food and drink didn’t help the matter later on in life. Korean baseball watched at the stadium is a whole different ballgame.

It was fairly necessary to have a Korean friend or speaker there to fully appreciate the game. Every player has their own individual chant and there are numerous situational songs throughout the game. It was great having one of our supervisors there to help point out the clutch ones. You could bring in any food and beverage you pleased and the tickets were only $9. Add on to this that the fans were far less stoic, more like an American football game vibe and it’s an entirely different spectating experience.

This was also the first time I’d set foot upon grounds that had once hosted the Olympics back in ’88. Not monumental moment but definitely a little warm and fuzzy feeling. Too bad I probably won’t be able to attend another game for a bit since the Monsoon season started this week. Typhoon is coming in on Sunday. We definitely don’t have those back on the West Coast so I’ll be exposed to some novel elemental fury. Kinda stoked.

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