Saturday, July 25, 2009

Done with preschool, off to Bali!

Finally after 5 long months of counting down days, my preschool days have finally ended. Due to some stupidity on our travel agent's part, we're not leaving today, but tomorrow for Bali. Two days on the beach, 3 days on an island and one night in the mountains, then back to Seoul to start working an afternoon schedule. I may just be a whole new person come August. I can't wait. Anyway, don't expect many updates until I'm back next week from Bali.

Happy Summer Vacation!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

On not being the best Korean speaker in a group of forigners

While my Korean is infantile at best, I can get around pretty well and people generally turn to me when they need to ask a Korean something or relay some message. Koreans are easily impressed, and if you can just say kamsahamnida with a decent accent they think you're a genius. My typical taxi ride usually involves a list of prying questions about my nationality, how long I've been here, why I speak Korean so well, if I'm married, and if my friends can speak Korean too. Usually the end result of the conversation is something like, wow, you've only been here a year? Impossible! You're (infantile) Korean is so good, you must have been here many years. It's kind of a nice ego boost, and sometimes I forget how poorly I actually speak...

This weekend I attended the birthday party of a Korean friend who teaches Korean (yes, Korean). For this reason, her group of friends is about 50/50 with Koreans and foreigners. Three of the foreigners were actually Kyopos, one who had studied Korean in college and has a Korean girlfriend here, with whom he speaks Korean to about 90% of the time, his sister, who devoted herself to Korean study for a while and now works as a translator, and another guy who spoke really well who I assume probably learned from his parents. Another guy who I didn't get his background story, could speak phenomenal Korean and has lived here quite a while I guess. There were two other Americans there too who knew a little bit of basic Korean.

Listening to all those foreigners hold down real conversations (aka, not 20 questions)... making jokes... and understanding jokes.... reminds me of how much I suck. These past weeks I've had even less time to study too, as I prepare to take back my afternoon schedule, and get things ready for my replacement for preschool. Also my Japanese friend with whom I only spoke Korean with has gone back to Japan for a while, so I'm not FORCED to speak Korean. I feel like I'm making no progress these days... *sigh*....

Anyway, the party was fun. They held it at a "business club"... actually it is owned by my friend's friend, and since they are closed on Sundays, they let us have free reign. We had our own bar and tables and even our own illegal norebang (karaoke), which the owners kept covered up with a screen when not in use. I'm sure it must be an interesting place when they get customers in there. Such a nice, small, private sort of place in the basement of a building must be for clients of a certain caliber I guess...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ballet Class

No, no, I'm not studying ballet, though I did find a "sports dance" class that I might do next month. "Sports dance" means learning things like the waltz and fox trot and things of that nature. For 38,000 won for 3 days/ week for a whole month, it's definitely worth a try. I could easily spend that much in one night out in Hongdae.

Anyway, this blog is not about sports dance. It's about my preschoolers' weekly ballet class. Every Wednesday I bring my students to the gym at our school and they get a 25 minute ballet lesson by a bilingual ballerina.

The music is unbearably catchy and I find myself singing the songs for days after. The kids love it though. They learn all the basic ballet stuff, and at the end, she always plays some sort of game. This week and last week, the game involved running under a blanket. But, the kids loved it, obviously.

We also have "gym" Monday mornings too. Gym actually means letting the kids run free in the park or in our gym for 25 minutes while we teachers check the homework and chat... or more often, deal with scrapes, bruises and children pushing each other.

Solar Eclipse and other news..

There was an 80% solar eclipse viewable in Seoul today. I took the kids outside to see it. Our director bought various colors of thin plastic, and our assistant teachers made the kids some "glasses" with it. It was fun. That's all about that.

But, finally my replacement is here. Fornax class has been ultra rambunctious having a new teacher coming, and Jupiter class has been remarkably well behaved. That's the complete opposite of usual. I hope she's not completely scared by them.

Today I cleaned my desk off, since I'll have to switch desks again (for the 3rd time). I can't move yet, though, since the desk I'm moving to is still quite inhabited by another teacher and there's no room for me yet...

I'm getting really excited for Bali. I'm leaving on Sunday and I'll be back late at night on the following Sunday, August 2nd. Expect lots and lots of photos and hopefully lots of good stories too.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bathing Suit Shopping

Since I lost my bag that had both my bathing suits during my excusion to dokjeokdo and was not able to track it down, I had to go bathing suit shopping this week for my trip to Bali next week. There are lots of places to go, like Myeongdong or Dongdaemun, but I've had the best luck in E-Mart, of all places. I bought my bathing suit for Vietnam there last winter, the selection was small since it was winter, but now, for the summer, they had a huge selection. I finally settled on two suits. I like Korean bathing suits, because, as Koreans tend to be a bit more modest than Americans, they always come with various cover-ups. I'm not quite thin enough to feel comfortable walking around everywhere in a bikini, so everything that I bought has some sort of covering to wear outside the water. The prices were good, only 28,000 won and 39,000 won respectivly for each set. They seemed to be having a sale when I went. The only problem? I'm a size 6 waist size, and I was wearing the largest size available. So... if you're bigger than say... an 8... or a B cup... you're probably out of luck unless you want to buy the ajumma bathing suits...

Friday, July 17, 2009

New York Times: Peeling Back Pavement to Expose Watery Havens

A few folks have blogged about this, but since I've done so much work with water issues back in the States, it's of particular interest to me. It's an article from the New York Times about the Cheonggyechong and how other cities are looking up to it's example. Besides the fact that I live only 10 minutes away from the Cheonggyechong, which is arguably one of the best places in Seoul. Check it out here:

Dokjeokdo..... Or How I Got Stranded on a Desert Island

Last Saturday morning we woke up at 6:00 am to get to Incheon by 9:30 to catch a boat to a tiny little island called Dokjeokdo, which is located about 80km off the west coast of Korea. It was supposed to be a great beach getaway, but it turned into a bit of a disaster. First problem we encountered was getting tickets to the ferry. Three of us bought tickets, but then they informed the other 5 of us that all the other tickets on for the boat were reserved for residents only. We had to wait until 5 minutes before departure before they informed us that we could get tickets because no residents showed up. We got on the boat and enjoyed the nice ride and some sun on the boat.
Here is a bridge being built to connect Incheon city with Incheon International Airport. It's a huge bridge and we couldn't see the end on either side.

Here is our first view of Deokjeokdo. We got to the island just after 10:30. We got picked up by our hotel (pretty standard on an island with no taxis) and were showed to our rooms. The rooms seemed ok at first, but we quickly realized that the one electrical outlet in the room was broken, so nothing would turn on. We asked to be moved to another room, which they had no problem with, since it wasn't any sort of busy weekend on the island. We got moved into the next room over. Here the electricity worked, but there was no cable (the other room where the other half of our group had cable), and the bathroom light was out. We asked them to fix it, but I guess they forgot... even though there couldn't have been more than 5 other rooms occupied in the whole hotel.

But, oh well, we can deal with these things, so we put on our suits and went down to the beach. We were hungry and stopped by a restaurant. Turns out that it was "opening weekend" for the beach, so all the food was free. So, we ate our free noodle soup, happy that we didn't have to pay for it (though, actually, I wasn't a fan of the soup). Then we went to the beach. The beach was nice, but the weather was a bit overcast. We didn't care and we went in the ocean and we laid on the sand until it started to rain around 4:00.

We headed back in and took naps at our hotel until about 8:00 when we headed out for dinner. We walked around forever and didn't find much. There were two ajosshi/ajumma couples fighting in the street over something... we walked away as quickly as we could. Then we happened across a huge ajosshi party to which we were of course invited and we of course declined.... as quickly as we could, though it took a good 20 minutes to shake them off of us. There was one creepy dude that followed us around all weekend. He just kept showing up everywhere and trying to talk to us.

Finally after at least an hour of walking and being eaten alive by mosquitoes, we found an awesome little restaurant where we all ordered a dukbekibulgogi soup that was amazing. As we were leaving the rain started up again and we went as quickly as possible to our hotel. We hung out for a while at the hotel, but we all slept early.

Around 7:30 Sunday morning, I woke up to the sound of whipping wind and torrential rain. It was quite a frighting sight, really. Mostly because I knew at that moment we were not going to get home that day. And even if there were boats running, I would not have gotten on it.

At 8:30 we got the official call from the front desk that all the ferries for the day had been canceled. Everyone flipped out. Some of my friends are the only foreign teacher at their school and have to pay for a substitute if they don't show up for work. Three of us were from the same hagwon, so we knew there was going to be hell to pay for three of us not showing up for work come Monday morning.

We made calls all over the place and were generally told to call back at 2:00 pm to see if weather conditions had improved enough to send a ferry. We made a call at 2:00 to that Seoul foreigner translation service thing (my friend calls them for any little problem and I guess they are always happy to help) and they came back with the message that there were ferries leaving at 2:30, 3:30, 4:30 and 5:30. We made a mad dash to get all our stuff together after we had been slouching around all morning and ran to the front desk to ask for a ride.

The front desk on the other hand was quite confused.... "But where are you going? There are no ferries until tomorrow..." We explained to them that there were in fact ferries, our translation service had told us so, but he made a call and said that there were no ferries. We decided not to trust him and had our Korean friend make a call to the ferry HQ too. She got the same answer. No ferries. We called our translation service back and got another person to talk to... she made the call for us and came back with the same answer.... no ferries.

Everyone was quite upset. I was the only one seeing the clear benefit of having a totally legit excuse not to have to go to work. My hagwon wouldn't fire anyone for missing one day of work and giving notice ahead of time and for circumstances beyond control. So... hey, to me, there was no downside. Well, except for all my fellow teachers who had to cover my position and not get paid to do it since one day of substitute teaching never puts anyone in overtime hours.

My friends on the other hand were really upset and contemplating what they were going to do tomorrow about getting their classes covered and whatnot. We were also then considering what do do for the upcoming night. We were not happy with the hotel, as I mentioned. While the staff seemed nice enough, we'd just had so many problems. Our bathroom light finally got fixed around 10:00 am the next morning, but in a bathroom with no windows, waiting almost 24 hours is not acceptable. Some of the members of our group went down to negotiate a price for the next night. Now it was Sunday night (so not a weekend night), and there were no ferries coming, so there were no guests coming, and with all the problems we had, we felt it reasonable to ask for a discount for the next night. Frankly speaking, I was fine paying 50,000 won for one room ... split 4 ways, so only 12,500 (aprox $10.00 USD), but some of my friend's money supplies were dwindling since we thought this trip was only going to be about 24 hours long. The man at the front desk explained that the owner was not available at the moment, so he wasn't able to negotiate the price with us. He asked us for another 50,000 per room for the night. My friends were pissed off by this and found another hotel about a 5 minute walk away and we promptly left. I felt really bad, though, because they started up the car to give us a ride, but we really couldn't let them drive us to our new hotel... we felt guilty enough as it was.

At the new hotel, we explained to them that we were short on money (it may have been over exaggerated) they gave us two rooms for the price of one, aka 50,000 for two rooms for the night, or 6,250 won (aprox $5.00 USD) for the night per person. This place was a bit cleaner, but smaller, and no TV, so we had to make some compromises, but everyone was happy enough. By this time, around 3:30, the rain had cleared up and the sun even peeked through for a few minutes. We put our bathing suits back on and went down to the beach. The beach for me was rather intolerable. The wind was still whipping and I was freezing. Sitting on the sand was impossible because the wind was whipping the sand right into our faces. Most of my friends went down into the water, as there were actually some waves because of the storm, but one other friend and I went away from the beach to an eating area where we parked ourselves with our books and a snack or two from the convenience store and just read until the other folks got sick of the water.

We then changed and went back to that eating area to get some dinner. We got donkasu, even though the prices were a little steep... it's an island, so everything has to be a bit more expensive. Finally we went back to our hotel and hung out and slept.

We had found out that there were to be three ferries to arrive at 7:10am on Monday morning to pick up all of us stranded people. So, we wanted to be the first ones in line for the boat, so we asked to be driven at 5:40am for that 7:10am ferry. Actually, it took the driver a while, but we still got there by 6:10 or so, and there were already some folks lining up. There was no system to the line and as the first boat approached, we realized that we were going to have problems, because each boat was from a different ferry company. They only wanted to take their own passengers FIRST but then they opened it up to everyone. Well, as you can imagine. Hundreds of angry Koreans... 75% of whom seemed to be ajummas... all trying to rush the boat at once. Even though they kept shouting that only the people with that special ticket could come on, people kept pushing forward. Then they announced that everyone could come on and the rush became a stampede. 5 of my friends got on the boat, but we had gotten split up and I didn't realize it until they were already on the boat shouting for us to get on. We couldn't move. We were being elbowed by ajummas on all sides. We just had to give up.

The three of us left got on the next boat with no difficulty. We got back to Incheon a little after 8:30, and we met our friends at DongIncheon subway station before 9:00. They bought McDonald's breakfast for us while they were waiting. We went up and caught the express train back to Yongsan Station in Seoul. From there we took a taxi home. The moment I entered my house I realized something was missing. My bag that contained my bathing suits, my favorite top and my Korean book for class. But you can read about that adventure here.

I made it to school just before snack time, missing only the first 80 minute block of school.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My year anniversary

As of July 16th, I will have been in this country for exactly 1 year. I got off the plane around 9pm and was escorted to a love motel on a back alley. I remember being wired from the excitement and went to the front desk to try to use the Korean that I had been studying for so long that I thought was so good. I asked where the PC bang was... and then I realized that I couldn't understand a word and that I was screwed.

I started my job as an afternoon teacher and soon fell in love with the students, schedule (1-8pm) and the lifestyle that my paycheck and free apartment could afford. I traveled to Taiwan for Chuseok, Vietnam for Christmas, Hong Kong for Lunar New Year and Beijing for Children's Day/ Buddha's Birthday. I'm leaving for Bali in two weeks, not to mention several trips around Korea.

I was really lucky to have found a decent school. I've always been paid on time, and my school gives us some perks like free temple stays and Chuseok and Lunar New Year presents that not every teacher gets.

The only thorn in my side about the whole experience thus far is/was my stint teaching Pre-school. Starting from March, I was switched to a 9:30-5:00 schedule without a choice, and forced to teach preschoolers which is something that I really never wanted to do. I really tried to keep a positive attitude, but the students really cause me so much stress it makes my chest hurt some days from the constant shouting from their part and mine, the constant bickering because they spend too much time together, and the constant problems that they have that I need to solve.

Fortunately, starting Aug. 3rd when I come home from Bali, hopefully well rested, I will be switching to my old position, seeing as how my contract has been renewed for an additional 4 months and there was an position opening teaching afternoon classes again. I have a facebook countdown to my last day of preschool, which I have had running since July 1st.

I think my biggest hope for a year in this country was to become proficient in Korean. I'm no where near that, but I've already achieved much more than 95% of the foreigners that come to this country. When I speak my infantile Korean, people assume I have been living here for many years, and are very surprised when I tell them that it's been less than a year. Now that I go to my hagwon (I'm on my third month) I hope to be much better by the time I finish my contract.

I will be completing my job around November 19th or 20th, hopefully traveling for a few days, then coming home just in time for Thanksgiving. I feel as though I should look for a job at home, so as to not completely waste my degree in science. But, I feel that I am going to be too picky about jobs and probably wind up back over here for another year. We'll see what happens, I'm trying not to plan too far in advance, in case other opportunities arise.

Thanks to you all who read my blog often and follow my silly little adventures. I hope that you continue to read my blog, leave lots of comments and send me all your questions. I have had an amazing time so far and I'd like to help anyone else I can to get to this place.

Ordering delivery

I finally did what I've wanted to try for 6 months now. Order delivery by phone. It's amazing how the simplest tasks from home become monumental feats in other countries. While the actual task of ordering is quite simple, it requires some knowledge that you don't use everyday... and enough language skill to deal with unexpected questions.

Knowing your address is not exactly that easy. Since most people don't know street names, it's useless trying to give a street address. Generally, you need to know the name of your apartment building (if you live in an apartment like I do), your apartment number followed by 호 (ho). Generally you don't need to know your dong (neighborhood name) and gu (city section name) to make a delivery. Frankly, I've been living here a year and I always forget what dong I live in because the residency listed on my alien registration card is registered as my school's address. But, fortunately, if you get an take out ad from a restaurant on your door (I get 10-20 per week... generally I just toss them) they will know where your apartment is and all you need to tell them is your apartment name and room number and they will know where you are.

We decided to order delivery last night because there were torrential downpours all day until quite late last night. I just took the umbrella off my head to get in the car for 2 seconds and got totally soaked. I was so scared to order delivery because, while my Korean skills are getting much better, I still don't deal with unexpected things well. Besides the fact that speaking on the phone is so much harder than speaking with people in person. So, after my boyfriend forced me to call, I only agreed to do it if he listened along just in case there were any unexpected problems. He wrote me out a script to read from, since I tend to get flustered and forget what I want to say when I get nervous... especially with numbers, which I can barely do in English, forget about in Korean. A few times I got lost but he pointed to what I needed to say on my cheat sheet and I managed to get through the entire conversation without him needing to take the phone from me and talk. Half an hour later the pizza I ordered arrived at the door and we enjoyed the first delivery that has ever come to my house.

Here is a general conversation:

Restaruant: blah-blah restaurant imnida (such and such restaurant)
me: pedal dweiyo? (do you deliver)
Reatuarnt: ne, odieyo? (yes, where to?)
me: blah blah apartment building, apt# 호 ho (apt. name, apt number followed by: ho meaning room)
Restaruant: mwo tulyeoyo? (what can we get for you?)
me: goguma crustuh largee du-gae chuseyo (sweet potato crust pizza, two large size)
Restaurant: topingsu? (Toppings?)
me: bulgogi hana hago painaple hana chuseyo (one bulgogi pizza, one pineapple pizza)
Restaurant: ne, man pal chon won imnida ( ok, thats 18,000 won)
me: olmana kolyoyo? (how long will it take?)
Restaurant: samship pun (30 minutes)
me: ne (ok)

I'll get the Korean up later for this, but I have to get to work!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lost and found.... slightly different from home...

This past weekend I went to Deokjeokdo island (thats another story for another day) and on my way home on the subway I left my bag on the train on the overhead rack. I am still quite angry at myself for doing such a stupid thing, because not only was my Korean book that I need for class in there, but my Japan travel book was in there and BOTH of my bathing suits... very important since I'm going to Bali for vacation in less than 2 weeks.

In an effort to find my bag (I can't imagine anyone taking it.. it's not like any Korean needs an elementary Korean textbook or old swimming suits that are probably too big for them anyway) my boyfriend found the Seoul subway system's lost and found website. The Korail (operators of line 1 to Incheon) folks document everything that is found and publish descriptions and photos of the lost items on it's website.

In order to get to the lost and found portion of the website, you need to click in the following progression: HOME > 고객참여마당 > 유실물찾기

Unfortunately, my bag does not seem to have turned up. I then started pondering if I had actually left it in the taxi and not on the subway (since I didn't realize it was missing until I got home). So, we found the Seoul central lost and found website. Again, they had everything turned in as lost on the website, with photo. Unfortunately, again, this search proved to be unfruitful. If you need to check this website for your lost things, you can go directly to this website to find your lost things. Sorry both these sites are completely in Korean...

After looking in both these places, I decided to check the general Seoul metro website to find my bag. They too had photos of everything that had been found. Unfortunatly, I kept getting error messages from their website every time I tried to look at the postings. Maybe it might work on another computer.

So, to make a long story short.... while Korea is very helpful in getting your lost things back to you.... it's starting to look like I'm going to have to go bathing suit shopping very soon.... :-(

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The soup that lies...

Ever since I deciphered the name of a popular soup called 감자당 (kamja-tang), which means potato soup, I've been wanting to try it. you could call me a potato-holic... I'll eat anything with potatoes in it. Thank god they eat potatoes in this country. A few weeks ago now I finally got to try it. And you know what? There just aren't that many potatoes in it! Why use such a deceiving name if you're only going to put two potatoes in the whole soup?

It is a rather interesting soup, though. The meat that they use is pork, but it is the meat from the spine. The taste is fine, but it's a little strange to be eating around the back bones. It is a good soup, so you should give it a try. There are lots of kamja-tang restaurants all around.

I guess there are two theories on the origin of the name of 감자당. One is that it is called kamja-tang, because it has kamja (potato) in it. The second theory is that it is called kamja-tang because kamja is the word for the meat around the backbone.

At The Spa

Only in Korea would someone name a water park a spa. Ok ok, it wasn't just a water park. Sunday after my Buddhist adventure, I went with my boyfriend to Termeden about an hour outside of Seoul in Ichon (not Incheon). This place had lots of pools to play in, indoor and out. There was also lots of saunas, and even one sauna outside (you had to go in to feel the heat, but it was actually like walking into a big outdoor baking oven). Outside, they had some jjimjilbang (public bath) style baths with scented water too.

It was a very hot day, so we had fun playing in the water (around all the screaming children). They had some little water slides that we had fun on, and they had lots of massage jets everywhere in all the pools.

The highlight of the day was the doctor fish. Doctor fish is a phenomenon that started in Turkey, but has become popular in many countries. Basically, you can put your feet (or your body) in with a special kind of fish that will feast on all the dead skin on your body. It sounds a bit gross, but after 30 minutes with my feet in the pool, my feet felt significantly nicer. It was a bit weird having my feet nibbled on and it felt like someone was tickling me... I couldn't stop laughing... but once I got used to it, the feeling wasn't bad at all.

I guess Doctor Fish are being baned in the US because of health concerns. They can probably spread skin diseases quite well. But, It's been a week and I haven't noticed any weird growth on my feet, so I think I came out ok. :-)

After a few hours of playing in the pool, I went and showered and then went into the real jjimjilbang. The jjimjilbang is always a bit intimidating, since you have to go in naked. But all the nice pools of water and saunas make it worth the uncomfortable feeling. I sat around in the pools for about 20 minutes, but it's just not that fun when you're alone. Besides, it was closing time anyway. I got dressed and we went home. What a nice day!

Making a Floating Boat

Last week, our scheduled Friday activity was a bit more fun than our usual book work in preschool. We got to make boats. This actually became a good way to teach science because we got to learn the word float, and talk about things that float (I got things like ducks, boats, paper, and garbage...) I'm hoping they understood when I told them that fish do not float... unless they were thinking of their dead fish...

If you want to try this with your students, you need:
  • Plastic bottle (water bottles or soda bottles work best)
  • lots of clay (not the foam clay, but real heavy clay.. you need to weight it down or it won't float)
  • some construction paper for a sail
  • Straws or sticks for a mast
  • Stickers or construction paper for decoration.
Step 1: Cut top off the bottle. Leave about 6-8 inches on the bottom for the boat. If you make a hole, most kids can cut the plastic...
Step 2: Use the clay to stick the mast to the bottom of the vessel. Use a lot of clay. It needs to be heavy.
Step 3: Make a sail
Step 4: Decorate by putting construction paper or stickers on the inside of the boat.
Step 5: Put it in water and watch it float!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Overnight Buddhist Temple Stay

My hagwon isn't perfect... no hagwon is... but I must say, I have it much better than most people out there. This past weekend, our director paid for us to take an overnight temple stay at Bongeunsa temple across the street from COEX mall. I've been talking about doing a temple stay for a long time now, so this was perfect for me. I got to do it, and I didn't even have to pay for it or organize it.

We met in front of Bongeunsa at the front gate at 2:20. At 2:30, we were guided into Bongeunsa by a volunteer and escorted straight to a new building in the back of the temple area. We were pleasantly surprised that there was air conditioning, as we were convinced we were going to be a pool of sweat by the time the temple stay was over, staying in some ancient building without electricity or something.

We first had to put all our belongings (except our cameras and other essential items) into a closet and were given some typical Buddhist worship attire to wear during our stay. We had to wear a vest and big baggy pants. they were quite comfortable. I guess you need to have comfy clothes when you're going to be bowing and meditating all day.

Then we had our opening ceremony where we recited some vows. After that was the tea ceremony. We were supposed to drink the tea, appreciating the smell, taste and color. Then drink again, appreciating the work that went into bring the tea to me, from growing the tree, to cutting the tree, to making the tea, to pouring the tea. Things that you usually forget about in every day life. We also ate cookies made from lotus roots. The lotus root symbolizes... uhm... something about how Buddha is the lotus, and it grows in dirty water, which is the human world... and.... uh... maybe I don't have a very good memory... I think there was something else to that metaphor.

After the tea ceremony, we made lotus lanterns. The lotus represents Buddha. Mine came out ok.. but I don't think anyone will ever employ me as an expert lantern maker... it was a little lopsided...

Next we had a tour of the temple. Here are some photos from the temple:

We then ate dinner. I wanted to take a photo of dinner, but I forgot. There are two things you need to know about meals in a Buddhist temple. First, you need to eat everything you take on your plate. If you take something and don't eat it, they will not let you hand your plate in to be washed. They do not allow any food waste at a temple. Secondly, there is no meat served in a Buddhist temple. Buddhists are vegetarians, since they seek to protect all beings. I guess eating animals would be a bit contradictory. Most of the meal was good. We ate chap chae ("Chinese- style" noodles with veggies, rice, fake meat (mmm) and seaweed soup. Actually, I should say that that is what I ate. There were more veggies and kimchi available, but I didn't want to run that risk of not finishing the food and being forced to eat something I didn't like. I wasn't a big fan of the seaweed soup... I never am... it's one of my least favorite Korean dishes. I asked the man serving the soup for just a little (in Korean) and he said, ok, and then continued to give me half a bowl. I didn't have fun forcing that down my throat.

After dinner, we watched the 6:00 drumming that proceeds the 6:30 service in the main hall. There are 4 different drums. One drum (typical style drum) is supposed to save all the land creatures that hear it. Then there is a fish shaped bell that saves all the water creatures that hear it. Then there is a cloud bell that saves all the air creatures that hear it. Then there is a big bell, that, when rung, can save all those in hell who hear it.

After that, we went to the worship service (not sure exactly what to call it... worship service sounds like a nice general term). I was always weirded out by the bowing in temples, but by this point I had done some bows and I was starting to get the hang of it. They gave us a booklet with the Korean, plus a translation of what the monks were chanting. Unfortunately, with the up and down of bowing, it was hard to keep track... They only kept us there for about 10 minutes. I was a little disappointed, because the sound of all the chanting was quite relaxing, even if I didn't understand, but I guess it would have become boring eventually.

We were then sent back to the air conditioned hall where a monk came and taught us to meditate. We were instructed to clear our minds and think of nothing. None of us were able to do this, but I guess that's normal for most people. I guess it's probably a lifetime of learning before you can really, completely, think of nothing.

We were given some free time and a snack, then we went to bed. Bed was a nice cushion on the floor. Much nicer than the bed at the hotel I stayed at in Gyeongju, for that matter. We didn't even get a floor cushion there, just a blanket to put on the floor. Bedtime, by the way, was 9:00pm

At 4:00am, we were awakened by one of the volunteers. We were rushed to get dressed and get down to the 4:30 am worship service. Walking through the temple at 4:00am in total darkness, with drums banging in the distance, and wearing Buddhist worship clothes has to be one of the most surreal feelings on earth. And even more surreal was the skyscrapers that you can see to the sides, even though you are surrounded by nature and a sense of peace.

Some photos from dawn:

We got to the temple to find that it was so crowded already that we had to sit on the sides for lack of space. Who would have thought that all those people would beat us there, even though we had slept there and had our own personal wake up call. Again we only stayed for about 10 or 15 minutes. I was getting even more into the service this time. Even thought it was all up and down for bowing, it just was very relaxing and peaceful. we were escorted back out and back to the hall where we'd been spending most of our time. We were given a short rest and some coffee or water and we sat around thinking how tired we were.

Next on the docket was the 108 bows. The volunteers led us in this bowing tradition. Each bow represents repentance for wrongdoings that we have committed in our life. They varied from murder of any life form to saying hurtful things about others to not paying remembering the people who worked to get our food and clothing from the farm to our stomach. All seemed like things worth bowing for. I wish we had said each thing before bowing, because after about a page or so, I couldn't keep up with the reading... I'm a slow reader I guess....

After this we had breakfast, which consisted of lots of panchan (side dishes), none of which I would touch knowing that I had to eat every morsel, tofu, rice, and mushroom ddeok soup. I ate up the ddeok soup (I was careful to avoid all the mushrooms when I put it into my bowl), and the tofu, and rice. My boss said to me that I didn't look like I had enough to eat... but really... I don't like mushy vegetables... which is what almost every Korean side dish consists of.

Then we went on a "meditation hike" behind the temple. We didn't really meditate much, but it was still a nice walk. After this, it was time to go back and clean up and pack up. At 9:00am we finished our temple stay. We had a quick closing ceremony, and we took a photo with our monk, and we were allowed to ask the monk any question that we wanted.

After we left, our director bought us all coffee at Coffee Bean (she then jetted out after paying so she could make it to her church on time) I can't drink much coffee, and Coffee Bean doesn't have smoothies or fruit drinks like other coffee shops, so I settled for a iced green tea. It was quite yummy. Then we headed back to the subway and headed home.

Temple stay is a great introduction to Buddhism. I wished that they had taught us more about the theory behind it, but it did give me a good feel for the basic every day practice of Buddhism. I will definitely feel more comfortable next time I visit a temple.

btw, I apologize for the horrible photo formatting of the photos here. I'm usually a nazi about the size and position of the photos on my blog, but I'm just so tired today I'm clicking all the wrong buttons and can't figure out how to reverse my mistakes without doing it over again. You can still get the point.

Monday, July 6, 2009

In celebration of independence day....

The North decided to celebrate American Independence Day by firing 7 Scud missiles and one fizzleing out Taepdong-2 missile out over the East Sea (Sea of Japan). I guess they wanted to participate in the fireworks too...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Korean Traditional Medicine market

Thursday, after work, my boyfriend decided he wanted to fill a prescription for some traditional oriental medicine that he had had written up for him a while back. The best place in Seoul to find traditional Korean medicine is at 경동시장 (kyungdong market) near Jegi-dong station. As it turns out, it was only about a 5 minute drive or so from my job in Wangsimni. This market sells many assorted things, but its specialty is traditional medicine.

The first problem he realized he had, was that his prescription was written completely in Chinese. He had it written for him at a branch of a famous Beijing clinic located in Bangkok, Thailand. So... the average Korean wouldn't probably be able to decipher the prescription.

We walked around for a while, too scared to ask anyone anything. Finally he found one shop, a 한약방 (literally "Korean medicine room", basically a pharmacy), that he thought looked promising. I'm not sure how he knew it would be the right shop to go to, but it just so happened that the pharmacist/doctor type person that worked there was originally from China (but his Korean was amazing), so he could read the prescription.


The Chinese doctor was very nice, and they discussed the various components of the prescription. Traditional medicine generally contains various materials that are combined into one drink that you should take once or twice a day. The ingredients are extracted using a big steam machine that I don't really know how it works. After they discussed the prescription for a while, the doctor/pharmacist suggested that he quickly check him out for free in the back room of the pharmacy where a little office/exam room was set up.

Though this man was not a 한의원 (han-ui-won) or a licensed traditional Korean doctor, he was obviously well trained, probably in China. For this reason he probably can not have a real doctor's office of his own. The entire check up consisted of only listening to the pulse for a few minutes on each hand and looking at the tongue.

They agreed on the prescription. He got everything that had been prescribed to him, minus one thing that was too expensive. It wound up costing 80,000 for a month's supply of medicine (if you take two per day). The medicine was packaged into little plastic bags that he drinks every day.

Next, my boyfriend thought it would be funny if the doctor gave ME an examination. I didn't really like the idea, but I went along with it, just for the story's sake. He listened to my pulse for a few minutes and looked at my tongue too. He proclaimed that I have a weak heart and that I am easily surprised. It's quite possible he's right. Who knows.

So embarrassed....

Anyway, the market is pretty interesting, it's worth checking out. It's actually huge, I only saw a small part of it. Not only does it have traditional medicine, but it also has very cheap food prices. We got 4 zucchinis for 1,000 won (0.78 USD). Now we have so much zucchini we've been trying to throw zucchini into everything for the past week. Anyway, to get there, take line 1 to Jegi-dong station.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Giving away stuff for free! Please e-mail if interested...

I inherited a huge collection of stuff when I moved into my apartment and I'd like to get rid of as much as I can... if there is no price listed, it is FREE.

If you are interested in anything here, please contact me at You can either come to my apartment in Sindang (line 2/6) or I can come meet you somewhere... within reason.

VHS tapes
Sex and the City 3rd season Vol.2
Sex and the City 3rd season Vol.3
Riding in Cars with Boys
Behind Enemy Lines
Don't say a word
21 grams
Boomerang (Eddie Murphy)
The Last of the Mohicans
Working Girl
Panic Room
The Beach
Whale Rider
Murder By Numbers
Lost In Translation
Punch Drunk Love
Bridget Jones' Diary
Three Kings
Next Friday
Before Sunset
The Man Without Fear
Arlington Road

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3
Bridge to Tarabithia
Fahrenheit 9/11
Pursuit of Happiness

Grand Tourismo 3 - 5,000 won

USB Computer game controller- $5,000 won (if interested, I can send a photo)

Gentra Sabilulungan
Degung Sabi lulungan
(both are Sudanese instrumental CDs)

Used yellow comforter with accompanying sheet set

At the driving range

So... my boyfriend is really into golf. I myself have never played. I'm not counting those times when I was 12 or something and we'd go to the driving range because we were bored... we'd just try to hit the ball as hard as we could and see where it went. That's probably not golf according to any golfer.

Golf in Korea is really big. I mean... really big. Everywhere you go, you can see screen golf rooms... (sounds like a video game for grown-ups to me.... might as well just go buy a wii). Seoul also hides many driving ranges in unsuspecting places. On the sixth floor of my hagwon building, there is a driving range (?). I don't really understand how you can have a driving range inside a tiny building like ours, but I'd really like to go up and find out. We actually send our second year preschoolers up there for golf lessons once a week. Also, right by Wangsimni Station (about 5 minutes from my hagwon where I work) is a huge mall. Inside the mall there are the general mall things, plus a water park on one side and a driving range on the other side. Again, I've never been in this driving range, but evidently it's only 15,000 won ($12.00 USD) for all the balls you can hit in an hour. The place looks immense.

Enter-6 mall near Wangsimni. See the rounded tall part of the building next to the tall mirror plated tower? That's a driving range... who would have ever thought to put a driving range in a mall??

On the other hand, if you want to play a real round of golf on a real golf course, you may have to shell out quite a bit more money than you're used to. One round of golf may cost around 1,000,000 won ($790.00) for 4 players at a typical course if you don't have a membership. This includes the caddy fee and tip, green fee and golf cart. Why so much money? Well, it's a small country where land is expensive, besides the huge popularity of the sport which causes a really high demand. So... I doubt the average person around here gets out to the golf course often. Who can afford that much money for one game?

Going abroad to play golf seems to be quite popular (at least in my boyfriend's circle of friends). My boyfriend went to Thailand during the long weekend in May, and all he did for 5 days was play golf because it was actually affordable. Sounds awful to me, but I could ski for five days in another country, so I guess, to each his own. In fact, Koreans can even go abroad and take golf classes, taught in Korean, at many courses. My boyfriend's friend is a golf instructor and he went to Thailand to work for several months, teaching golf to Koreans, and made quite a nice bit of money I bet.

Anyway... how did I wind up at a driving range? Well, I'm still not sure... I guess I finally gave into his begging to go. And... yes, I suck.. but then again, it was my first time. But, you know, I'm already into one expensive sport (skiing). I can't afford to get into two expensive sports. I always associate golf with yuppies anyway.... I know it's not true, but I can't imagine myself on a golf course with a polo shirt and a golf bag.

The driving range I went to was outside of Seoul, in Bundang. It was outdoors, but the area where you putt (?) from was completely covered. Not only was it covered, but it was actually three stories high. You could putt from any of the three floors. Leave it to Koreans to build up rather than out.... they are the masters of conserving space. When you hit a ball out past 80 meters or so, the balls rolled down, presumably into collection bins. There are no ball collecting carts that you can try to aim while you're hitting the balls. No real grass for that matter either. Some fake looking grass up front, then it's all smooth so the balls can roll when you get far enough out.

Anyway... golf is not something that I really care about, but if it is something that you care about, you can easily fit in here in Korea. Just.... don't expect to be out on the course more than once a year...