Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympics, Dentists, and Singing with Soldiers

Korea is going well. The last couple of days have been really nice here – almost all of the snow has melted, and I almost didn’t need a jacket this afternoon.

Today I had my second of two dentist appointments (just for cleaning). The total cost was about the equivalent of fifty dollars. It’s an interesting experience, not being able to follow the simple directions, but somehow it works. We also made friends with the manager, who has invited us to dinner next week. She’s very nice, but it’s still kind of strange – go in for a cleaning, come out with dinner plans.

I’ve been trying to watch as much of the Olympics as I can. However, between my lack of a television (and the language barriers when I am by a television) and the time delay, I haven’t seen much of the games live. Additionally, the Koreans have certain events that they care more about (speed skating and figure skating), so their programming is heavily geared toward those events. While we were at the dentist’s today the whole place stopped to see Kim Yu Na skate.

It’s also interesting seeing their coverage because they highlight their own accomplishments (replaying speed skating victories again and again) while showing the missteps of others (showing Vonn crash). I wish I could actually understand what they are saying when they do all this.

Last weekend was my co-worker’s birthday, so we had a girl’s night out. After dinner, we met some soldiers who were on their night off and we ended up singing at the noraebang (karaoke) with them until early in the morning. It was another one of those experiences you never imagine happening. I have a number of pictures (and videos) of this, but I'll wait to share those.

This weekend I’m off to Seoul to see my friend there, and maybe do a little more sight-seeing. We have Monday off of work, and then it’s the start of a new semester. This marks the sixth month point of my stay here. Hard to believe that I’m halfway done!

This week has been extra difficult though, because one of my co-workers is on vacation. It's only an extra class or two each day, but it makes a difference! A couple of nights this week my classes don't end until 10:30 at night. But there are only two more days left, so that helps.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Happy Lunar New Year, everyone!

We had both Friday and Monday off of work, so we headed down to the southern coast in search of better weather and maybe a little adventure. At least we got one - it was a lot of fun and we saw a lot, despite the chilly weather (I don't know why we were expecting it to be so much warmer, but we were way off on that count).

We left Chuncheon early Friday morning and arrived in Busan about five hours later. First we went to Beomosa temple, which was only one stop away on the subway.

Between the snow and the holiday/weekday, it was very quiet at the temple, and there were a lot of interesting sculptures and art pieces to see.

After that we were off to the Hurshimchung Spa, which is one of the largest (there is debate about this) spa complexes in Asia. I had a wonderful massage and spent some time in all of the pools. If you don't know about Korean spas, they are definitely a unique experience. They are separated by gender and there are no clothes or swimsuits allowed in bathing areas. You're issued a "uniform" to wear in the common areas, and they have just about everything you can imagine - spas, saunas, massages, sleeping areas, food.

In Korea, you really only make reservations at the higher end hotels. However, the majority of places to stay are smaller and cheaper, and they are known as "Love Motels", most commonly used by young couples who live with their families. Jackie and I decided to save a bit of money and see what these are all about by staying at a different motel each night. For the most part, they were pretty clean and cheap (30,000-35,000 a night, which is about 25-30$). It was definitely a Korean experience.

On day two we went to the beach. Haeundae Beach is one of the most popular destination for Koreans during the summer months, but since we went in the middle of February there was plenty of room for us.

We went on a boat tour of the Haeundae area, past the Gwangalli area (another popular beach) and around some of the Oryuk-do mini-islands just off of the coast.

Saturday was the only day the sun was peeking out of the clouds, so we ended up choosing the right time. After that, we went to the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, which ended up being one of the most amazing parts of the trip.

The Yonggungsa Temple is in the cliffs along the coastline. The views are beautiful, and of course just as we arrived the battery on my camera went out. Here is a small idea of what it was like :

Sunday was the most difficult day we had because just about everything that could go wrong did just that. We started the day by heading the the western part of the city. We wanted to start the day at the Nakdonggang bird sanctuary, and a trip that should have take a few minutes turned into an hour and a half tour of the industrial outskirts of Busan. For being such a large city (with a few million people it's the second largest city in South Korea) we assumed that there would be more foreigners and therefore more people who would know where "touristy" places were or would maybe even speak a bit of English and could help us. There weren't.

Because no one could understand our shaky Korean pronunciation, we missed our bus stop. By the time we finally got to the bird sanctuary, we were cold and tired of waiting around for the other buses. It would have been nice, but we were hoping for so much since it took so long to get there and there weren't even many birds.

Then on the subway on the way back to the central part of the city there was almost a fight in our car. When we got out, we wandered halfway up a mountain trying to find a specific park until we had to give up.

We ended the day at the Jagalchi fish market, which had a lot of vendors even though it was Sunday on a holiday weekend. It's actually probably a good thing we didn't go during a busy time, because the smells (and some of the sights - like the skinned eels that were still alive) were already disturbing.

Overall it was a very interesting experience. Before arriving, I never knew how different all of the cities would be. Now I've got another major one crossed off the list, so hopefully I'll get to go to one of the more historically/culturally important cities next.

Monday, February 1, 2010

February 1st, 2010

Intensives are now over! This is one of the best thing to happen since I arrived. It means that I'm almost half way through my time here, and it's really helped me appreciate just how good I have it most of the time (in terms of scheduling and workload). At the same time, it means I have to find some new hobbies to occupy all of the extra time I have now.

Lunar New Year is in just under two weeks. I have both Friday and Monday off, so we're taking a bus for six or seven hours to Busan, the second biggest city in Korea. It's on the southern coast and is a major port city. At the very least, we plan on relaxing and seeing the beach. There are also boat tours of all of the islands just off the coast.

It's funny how everything that was once so amazing and strange has become normal. It feels like I have nothing new to report on, but really, it's just that everything that once seemed so noteworthy is now what I do every day. The people are the same, the city isn't very exciting, the food isn't so crazy (well, this one maybe isn't so true - there are restaurants serving all sorts of things that I'd never touch, like dog, raw chicken, all kinds of octopus/squid/any sea creature you can imagine).

Right now I'm just hoping the warming trend continues and it doesn't snow again. Just above freezing is actually not so bad.