Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nine-month mark

While there have been ups and down over the last nine months in Korea, I feel like I've stumbled on a pretty big down. Everything has been bothering me lately, and most things are going wrong.

School is being bothersome. The youngest kids are going wild, and the older kids have all grown attitude problems. The end of the semester is here, which means it's once again time to scramble to get everything wrapped up and ready for the next term, so the office has been thrown into complete disorder. Additionally there are new teachers, people getting ready to leave, and a whole new desk arrangement, all of which only add to the chaos.

It's also local election time here, so the candidates have been going crazy. Instead of a deluge of television ads (which I could stand, because I don't have a television), all of the candidates are out on the corner of the main streets, greeting people and blasting poppy music with altered lyrics to support their campaign (songs include : "If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," sung by children who shout the candidate's name in every break). It's just so strange. Also, there are choreographed dancers with matching outfits. So strange.

I went to dry clean my blanket (last time I tried to wash it myself I burned a bunch of it because it barely fits in my washing machine). I thought it wouldn't be a big deal, but it takes them three days to wash a blanket. THREE DAYS. And when I got it back, it smelled like old meat. Sometimes it's the little things like that that end up pushing you over the edge.

Then there's the realization that I have so much to do before I leave, and I have so much to plan for (Jeju Island, a China trip, SE Asia, Trans-Mongolian, just to name a few). And with the Korean trips I still have to do that I missed due to illness.... It's just starting to get overwhelming.

I know that most of the things going on here are small annoyances, but they're starting to add up. It doesn't help that some of my older children are trying to tell me that war is going to break out at any moment (I don't think it is, by the way).

I'm hoping that a big weekend at the International Mime Festival will help blow off a little of stress, so I can re-focus on everything I have to get done.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A trip to the doctor's

Plans here can change very quickly. Tomorrow is Buddha's birthday, so I have the day off. I was planning to go to Gyeongju, the capital of the Silla kingdom (which lasted until 935 AD). But last weekend I was sick, and as usually happens after I get sick, I ended up with an ear infection.

So on Tuesday I got my first insight into how the Korean health care system works. First off, there's no appointment necessary. And I didn't have to present any form of identification (though I did have to go with a Korean speaker, and maybe they just trusted his judgment).

Luckily the doctor spoke English. Ultimately, between the appointment and the pills it was only $25, and I'll be reimbursed for it. Kind of strange, though, that in Korea you don't just get one pill. You get a packet of random pills and no drug information telling you what it is. I know one of the pills in the normal antibiotic, but there are four others I'm taking three times a day that I'm unsure about.

The biggest issue is that they don't give you the full treatment, so I have to go back on Saturday to be re-checked and get the rest of the prescription. This means that I can't go out of town as planned. A bit disappointing, to say that least.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hong Kong, part 3

My last day, I took the double-decker city bus up to the top of Victoria Peak, which looks out over the harbor. The ride reminded me of crazy bus rides in Costa Rica or Hawaii, but with more buildings. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day so the view wasn't amazing, but it was still nice.

I ended the journey with my own temple tour of Hong Kong. The first stop was the Nan Lian gardens and the Chi Lin Nunnery. It was crazy how such a beautiful place is right in the middle of the highways and the city.

After that, I went to the Wong Tai Sin temple, which was also nice (though I think I spoiled it by going to Chi Lin first).

My final stop was supposed to be the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas, but the signage was a bit confusing to get there. I finally thought I found it, and after taking pictures and getting to the top, I realized I was actually in a temple to honor ancestors and deceased family members. It was beautiful, but kind of awkward riding the tiny, cramped inclined elevator back to the bottom with grieving families.

Once at the bottom, I set out in the direction of the Buddhas I had thought I had seen. This time I was in the right place. But by this time it was getting late, so I had to nearly run to the top in order to get there before it closed. I had heard that it was an amazing place, but when I got to the top I was tired and gross, and I had really high expectations, so I wasn't really happy with the tiny temple area that I found.

All in all, it was a fun trip.

Now it's just three and a half more months left! I have big plans for the rest of my time here. I have an upcoming short break when I plan on going to Gyeongju (the "museum without walls" city, which is one of the historically significant cities in Korea). I also have two more vacation days that I plan to use in June to go to Jeju Island. Finally, there's the summer break, and I have tentative plans to go to Beijing. Also, there's a big Woodstock 2010 concert at the DMZ in August. So there are plenty of good things to come!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hong Kong, part 2

On the third day, I went to Macau. Macau is a very interesting place - it's very confusing because you're never quite sure where you are. One second you're in Asia, then colonial Europe, then Las Vegas. It's quite interesting.

Macau was also interesting because I got off the ferry with very little idea of what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. Because of this, I ended up being roped into a car tour with two strangers - a girl from China and a guy from Egypt. We got to see a lot, though the poor girl had to translate the whole time. It was a different experience.

Here are a few of the stops we made :

The golden lotus, a gift from China

Monte Fort, an old Portuguese fort is on one of the hills. The top of the fort is very pretty, with gardens and a museum.

One of the cannons points at the Grand Lisboa casino

The view from Monte Fort (including the ruins of St. Paul's)

The ruins of St. Paul's

The lady with the amazing egg tarts

The Kun Lam statue

The Las Vegas part (the MGM, where we went later and I watched a weird dice game)

Church of Our Lady of Penha

View from the Church of Our Lady of Penha

An interesting mix of cultures

Largo do Senado

After returning to Hong Kong, I stayed at the pier to watch the Symphony of Lights. The Symphony of Lights is the nightly laser show put on by a number of buildings along both sides of the harbor. While it was pretty, it was packed with people so I didn't get the best pictures, but it's one of those things that is listed as a "must do" so I had to do it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hong Kong, part 1

Last week I took my first solo vacation to Hong Kong and Macau. I had a really good time, despite the shockingly high temperatures and the 95% humidity.

In short, I would describe Hong Kong as "a lot" - a lot of people and of things to do and see, and at times a bit overwhelming. The city is extremely busy and efficient, which is great sometimes (public transportation), but it can make human interaction a little difficult.

Upon arriving, I went to the harbor to take a tour on the Star Ferry. Between the mainland and the main island, Hong Kong has a pretty amazing skyline.

My second day, I took a fast ferry out to Lantau Island. Lantau is the largest of the Hong Kong islands, and is home to the world's largest, seated, outdoor bronze Buddha statue. It really was huge, and it was quite the hike up to the top. The worst part was that by about halfway up, you lose the tree coverage, so after this I had a bit of a sunburn (the views were worth it, though).

After seeing seeing the Buddha, I went to a small fishing village called Tai-O. Tai-O is most well known because the village is built up on sticks because of frequent flooding. It's also one of the last spots where Chinese white (pink) dolphins can still be found. I went on a boat tour, and even though there were no sightings on the scary little ride out (there was a point when I realized that if the boat went down, no one would have any idea where I was), it was a lot of fun.

These posts are going to have quite a few pictures, so I'll get the next part up soon.