5.29.2010

Saturday Part 2: Suwon Fortress

After our exciting adventure to see the Golden Buddha Statue, we continued up Mt. Paldal to the lookout tower. The view from the top was amazing and I apologize for the poor video quality in the video. Anyway, once we got to the top, Katrina and I enjoyed the view for a few minutes. Next, we walked along the top of the mountain and followed the wall to the Bell of Filial Piety.


(Lookout Tower at the top of Mt. Paldal)

(If you look very closely you can see a structure at the top of the mountain. That structure is the one found at the top of Mt. Paldal, the same one in the previous picture.)


(Compound Katrina and I visited last weekend)


The Bell of Filial Piety makes the tradition of filial piety reverberate in our hearts and expresses the best wishes of the citizens of Suwon for your family and for the nation. Each toll had a specific meaning:

1st toll: To show gratitude and respect for your parents
2nd toll: To wish for your family's health and harmony
3rd toll: To wish for the realization of your dreams


(Bell of Filial Piety, which is representative of Suwon, also know as the city of Filial Piety)


After the Bell, which neither Katrina nor myself rang, we went back down the mountain and hopped on to the Hwaseong Trolley (aka "The Dragon Wagon" as I liked to call it). We rode the Dragon Wagon for about half an hour during which time we were able to see the outer limits of the walled city. Katrina and I got dropped off at the Dongjangdae, or place of military command. In the front of the palace there was an area, where for 2,000 Won, individuals could attempt to shoot arrows. Again, we passed but as I hope you have noticed, the entire area has interactive entertainment for children and adults alike.


("Dragon Wagon")


(Mountain Water. Half way down Mt. Paldal there was a communal spring which people could use to fill their water bottles or there were also communal cups)


Katrina wanted to see a beautiful garden area so we headed there next. The view was nice and there was not a lot of noise in the air. Upon entering the tower, we took off our shoes and then found a nice place to have a seat. We ended up staying for about 15 minutes. After that, we took a stroll down to the river. The building which is apart of the fortress also served as a floodgate. After our river walk, we found the 98 bus and spent the evening at my place. By the way, my move out date has been delayed from today at 4 pm until tomorrow, Monday, at 11 am which also coincides with my first day of work. Hope everyone is doing well and you enjoy the pictures. Take care.


(View of floodgates and tower where we relaxed (upper right hand corner). On the other side of the floodgates is a pond and there were a lot of birds flying around.)


(View of the wall with Suwon City in the background)

Saturday Part 2: Suwon Fortress (video)

This is just a short video to give you an idea of the terrain in and around Suwon. If you look carefully, you will be able to see a lot of high rise apartments and a few mountains in the distance. Also, at the bottom of the video you should be able to see Hwaseong Haenggung, the compound Katrina and i visited last week. The view from the top of Mt. Paldal was amazing. I hope you enjoy.

video

Saturday Part 1: Golden Buddha

As I mentioned last week, Katrina and I were going to venture back to the area where we were sightseeing and were going to attempt to find the giant Golden Buddha statue. Well, we found it! From the picture, the size of the statue is difficult to determine. However, if you look at one of the pictures, you can see me at the bottom and it will give you an idea of the size of the statue itself.

Behind the statue, there were seven or eight heads and around the base, there was the same amount of smaller figures. I am not quite sure the significance of these idols but nevertheless, they were there. In each of the figures around the base of the statue, each being was holding a different weapon or striking a different pose. Regardless, the statue was amazing and quite a sight to see.


(If you look closely, you can see me waving)


(Figurine at the base of the statue)


(Katrina and I in the bell tower with statue in the background)



Beneath the statue was an underground building which seemed to serve as a temple or place for prayer. There was a sign that said no shoes so I took my off and down I went. There was what could best be described as an altar situated at the back of the room. There were incense, a few jars, and an area to leave a donation on the altar. In front of the altar sat a small table with a cushion. The room was brightly decorated and had hanging paper balloons. Around the entire inside of the structure were hundreds of tiny Buddha statues, each one holding a single, white Christmas tree light. Again, without a translator, I have no idea of the significance of each statue. If I had to guess, I would say it was either all of the Buddha's throughout history or each of the priest that had studied at that temple and the rank they had achieved. However, since each was holding a light, I would guess the former rather than the later.


(Altar with smaller statue)


(Balloons - notice the symbol...)


(Miniature Buddha statue's lining the walls of the temple)


(Up close view of mini statues)



Finally, along with several other structures on the compound, there was a large gate which housed a bell. The bell was chained but the architecture of the building and bell itself were beautiful. There was a wonderful view of Suwon from the bell tower but a much better one later in the day. Also, inside the tower was a device which was used to warn citizens a few hundred years ago of invaders. The device is a wooden block carved out in the shape of a dragon. The underside of the dragon was hollowed out and a stick was used to make a large knocking sound, alerting the people to any dangers. Katrina and I spent about half an hour there before making out way to the top of Mt. Paldal.

(Bell Tower at Buddhist Compound)


(Bell)


(Hollowed Dragon to warn of dangers)


(Fun Little Buddha Guy on the Grounds)

5.25.2010

You Got to be Kidding Me

I am still observing - 3 classes scheduled for today and hopefully a medical check at some point since I wasn't able to eat since 12 last night. Yesterday, I was able to open a bank account and apparently, you earn interest in Korea if you have over $50 in your account, not the case in Japan. I did find out yesterday that I get shafted - yes, that's the best word - when it comes to vacation. According to the contract, I get 14 days of vacation including weekends. For the summer session, all the teachers get a three day break plus the weekend so there is five days. Then, after six months, you get to take another week off. I was thinking the five workdays plus the weekend for a total of seven. My math was wrong. Apparently, you include the weekend before and the weekend after your day off for a total of - nine. Nine plus five, there is your fourteen days off which is only eight actually work days. Needless to say, I was not very happy.

Anyway, as far as the job is concerned, it does not seem that difficult. I have to arrive every day by 2 pm and cannot leave until 10 pm, no exceptions. According to a teacher I spoke with yesterday, the Korean teachers are not allowed to fraternize with the native English speakers due to some problems in the past, if you catch my drift. I will be teaching two different classes and have a total of four books to teach from. The first part of the lesson is attendance and review. Then we go in to a bit of reading and writing following that. And, that is a typical lesson. There is still a bit I have yet to learn but feel confident that I could teach a class right now. In Japan, we were there a day and a half and were thrown into our first lesson.

As of now, I am just biding my time until the actual teaching begins. There really isn't a lot I can do at the moment, except perhaps look at my books. However, I have a feeling I will be able to do a bit of that tomorrow. I still do not know exactly when I will be moving in to my new apartment, hopefully Sunday. Again, the communication has been far from spectacular. So, I just continue to sit in the computer lab, by myself, with little to do except listen to music and check up on the Flyers.

5.24.2010

Training???

I reported to my school yesterday at 1 to check-in. Eric, the Korean 'handyman' I guess you could call him, took me to the place where I'll be staying for the week - a love motel. Apparently, in Korea, couples live at home until they are married - still a bit conservative. So, if they need to fulfill their physical desires they rent out a love motel room and if I am not mistaken, they can be rented by the hour, for a few hours, a day, or in my case, a week. Believe it or not, the room is actually pretty nice. There is a huge, flat screen TV, double bed, little couch, and nice size shower room with bath. Oh, I forgot to mention, there are covers over the car entrance, flaps of sorts, so no one can tell who exactly is using a room. Scandalous but an unwritten rule in Korea.

So, I walked back to work around 2 and began my day. Oh, what a day. Compared to Japan, I think this is going to be cake. For the first two hours, according to the head instructor Nathan, teachers "prepare." And yes, he used hand quotation marks when telling me this. Then, you teach either a lesson or two, have a 70 minute break to eat dinner or prepare, then teach a final lesson or two depending on your schedule. So, when all is said and done, I will teach three 70 minute classes for a total of three and a half hours of work. I will have two hours of prep time or time to grade papers before class starts and then another 70 minutes if need be during my break, and finally a half an hour at the end of the day to finish paperwork. However, I must be in by 2 o'clock and I can't leave until 10. And that folks, will be my daily routine.

Training was interesting to say the least. I did a lesson plan, watched a video (which was not really specifically related to the material I'll be watching), took my break, then observed two lessons. This week, all I do is observe, that is it, nothing else. I sit in classes, take a few notes, and observe. And that folks, will be my training.

I am using the internet and computer at the love motel so I will try to upload photos whenever I get a chance. Hope all is well.

5.22.2010

Hwaseong Haenggung

Today, we decided to catch the 98 Bus to my work so Katrina would know how to get there and also so I could refresh my memory. Training starts on Monday. However, afterward, we planned on stopping at a giant golden Buddha statue I had noticed after visiting work this past Monday. So, after we saw it on the way back, we got off and started walking back. Fortunately, it was only about a five minute walk and we found ourselves in a giant open courtyard. There was a funky statue greeting us which turned out to be a celebration of Buddha's 2,445th Birthday, or some number close to that. We headed towards some gates but were distracted by an information center and headed in to look around.

Honestly, there was not a lot of information in the information center but there were quite a few nice pictures. I still do not know the whole story about "The Best of detached Palace Architecture in the Joseon Dynasty" but that is where we found ourselves. Needless to say, the giant golden Buddha statue is going to have to wait until next weekend.


(Buddha's B-Day Memorial)


The admission fees were only 1,500 KRW or about a dollar fifty per person, not bad. From the map/brochure that I was given, the temporary palace served as a Suwon government office as well as a temporary palace after it was built in 1789. Sadly, the Japanese destroyed the original palace during their occupation. However, in its heyday, the palace had over 600 compartments, some of which are filled with exhibits depicting ancient lifestyles. It was also home of the feast for Princess Hong of Hyegyeonggung at which over 70 dishes were served.


(Traditional Room - Clerk)



(Palace Architecture)



(Bird's Eye view of Queen's Feast)


Luckily, during the weekends, volunteers dress in traditional garb. As a result, we got to see some interesting outfits. Also, there were several hands on areas where individuals could pay 2,000 KRW ($2) and wear the King and Queen's clothes, wear armor, cook and drink tea, make Korean paper, or make a ceramic ware. The paper making looked the sweetest but I decided not to participate. Also, there were a few guys hammering away on some rice to make rice cakes.


(Rice Cake Production)



(King & Queen's Quarters)


Although we did not make it up to the statue, it was still a fun day and my first Korean cultural experience. Every Saturday there are performances held at 2 o'clock and we caught part of one as we headed back for the bus. Regrettably, it started raining as we were leaving and without rain gear and with a camera in my pocket, we decided to head home. I do think next weekend or some time in the near future we will make it back for a performance and tackle the golden Buddha statue.


5.20.2010

Before the Journey Across the Pond


As I am sure many of you know, I was supposed to leave in February for Korea. Obviously, that did not happen due to quite a few paperwork mishaps and errors. Nevertheless, the extra time before departing was nice in quite a few ways. For starters, I was able to work a bit, first at the Hershey Technical Center on a top secret product which I am unable to discuss, and after that, for Chris Archibald's Landscape Design. Both jobs were mind numbing, to say the least and thanks to Arch, I now know how to spread tanbark (as if I could not have figured that one out on my own.) However, I am thankful for the the jobs since I was able to make a couple extra bucks before leaving.

Besides working, I was once again able to visit the plethora of historical landmarks in and around the Central Pennsylvania region as well as some of the surrounding states. Unfortunately, Katrina and I were unable to make it to Niagara Falls due to the week notice she received before leaving. On the other hand, we were able to visit the Gettysburg Battlefield. We had one main purpose, my mother, aunt, Katrina, and myself - the cyclorama. The picture below does not serve justice to the 360 degree painting of Pickett's Charge which stands 27 feet tall and 359 feet in circumference. I would highly recommend taking the time to visit this landmark. For those of you who have seen the great redwoods of the northwest, it is like trying to explain the massive size of the redwoods compared to the Eastern Pines - not happening.




(Gettysburg Cyclorama)


Next on our stop - 'The City of Brotherly Love.' My mother and her boyfriend were taking a trip to Philadelphia and Katrina had a friend who worked there. So, we hitched a ride, saw a few of the sights, as well as a play in some famous theater - the name of which now escapes me. Tony Luke's now holds the special place in my heart reserved for Philly Cheese steaks. The main purpose of the trip, at least in my opinion, was the market. Not too shabby but after living in Portland, I wasn't overly impressed.




(Liberty Bell)


Caves. Katrina wanted to save Indian Echo Caverns so bad. So, one afternoon we packed up, drove the 15 minutes, and took the tour. I believe the last time I was there was in 5th grade and it seemed to hold a lot more magic and mystique at that age. Do not get me wrong, it is still a place to visit one every five or ten years. Looking back now, I think I was turned off by the tour guide, who seemed all to rushed to finish the tour for the five paying customers. I guess I should have apologized for burdening her while at work.




(Indian Echo Caverns)


Finally, I now consider myself somewhat of a NYC expert. Not that I have lived there or anything but after visiting 3 times in 3 weeks, it sure as hell felt like it. I took Katrina up on a Friday for her 10 minute visa interview and the following Monday, we drove up again, this time using the Park and Ride option at Secaucaus Junction. If you are going for a day trip, I would highly recommend this option. $12 to park, a 15 minute ride into Penn Station which costs $3.50 I believe, maybe less, and none of the hassle of driving in the city! We went to Times Square and I wondered - how many languages are spoken in this spot throughout a day? How many countries were represented at that very moment? Then, we took a stroll down to Central Park and finally, we picked up her visa.

A few weeks later, my sister, nephew, and I all went up again for my visa interview. We pretty much hit all of the same spots and my nephew requested that his father move the family up to NYC to live. Not something I see happening any time soon. My only regret, and not so much mine as my mother's, is that I did not make it to the Carnegie Deli. Oh yeah, and the fact we visited two days before the bomb scare.




(Ice Hockey Rink in Central Park)



(Times Square)

5.17.2010

Bus #98

My recruiter had the bright idea that I should visit the school I will be teaching at today. Only problem, no one has any clear cut directions on how to get there. So, yesterday, Katrina and I went for a little walk to find the correct route, Bus #98, and we did. While we were there, we asked these two girls if 'Baek-Seol-Ma-Eul' was along the route and of course, they pointed to it. The arrow was headed in the opposite direction but I did not think anything of it from the directions given to me by my recruiter.

I wake up today, take a shower, and away I go. Katrina and I stop at the bank so I can exchange some money and I am off. I get to the stop, wait about 5 minutes and hop on to Bus #98. I am sitting on the bus for about 15 minutes until I decide to ask the bus driver if my stop is on the bus. Fortunately, I copied the Korean after the young ladies showed it to me yesterday. The driver shakes his head and points in the other direction. As we make a turn at a light, he points to another bus stop and says the magic words - "okay."

I hop off the bus and walk me way across the street to the bus stop. Here come three women and I ask them, "Baek-Seol-Ma-Eul?" as I point to the Bus #98 line. No 'yes' or affirmative shaking of the heads followed so I decided to call the Korean contact I had at the school. Her advice, take a taxi and give her a call when I get inside. The ladies help me flag down a taxi and I had the driver my phone, some chit chatting ensues, all in Korean of course, and I can see the dollar signs or should I say won signs flash in my head. I am hoping the trip will be under a hundred but try to enjoy my first ever taxi ride.

After about 10 minutes we pull into an apartment complex and the driver says, "telephone." I understood and called the woman back. No answer but up came a black car with Chelice, the school's manager inside. The total cost, about five dollars. I ended up going to her apartment complex and catching a ride in to work with her. It was probably about half an hour or so.

I arrived at the school and we spent about half an hour trying to figure out how to get home. Bus #98 is the way to go, next time I just need to get on the bus on the opposite side of the street. In fact, I rode the bus home and it only took about 45 minutes and cost 90 cents. I really did not do a whole lot at the schools, a few introductions and met with my fellow teachers as well as some of the Korean teachers. All in all i was there for probably two hours. My orders, to come back Monday at 1 pm. I now have a Korean business card with the school's address in case I get lost but there shouldn't be any problems since I know which bus to get on. Good times living in a foreign country!

5.15.2010

14 Hours Later

I left Harrisburg at 11 am Friday morning and took the 25 minute plane ride to Dulles. My flight from Dulles left around 2 pm after a short delay while we waited for the thunderstorms to move out of our way. 14 hours later I landed at Incheon International Airport - it was one day later and 5:00 in the evening. The time change, at least when I convert, is to subtract an hour then switch the am to pm or vice-versa, almost a half day off. I was met at the airport by my beautiful girlfriend and we waited an hour before catching a bus which took us close to her apartment. After the hour and a half bus ride and a twenty minute walk, we were finally 'home'.

No problems at immigration - the woman looked at my passport, looked at my visa stamp, looked at me, stamped my arrival date and away I went. After picking up my bags, I handed the gentleman my customs declaration which was no declaration and moved right along with the scores of other people going through the same line. No random checks, no questions, just handed him a piece of paper.

As for the flight, if you somehow find yourself flying over this way, be sure to book with Korean Air. By far the most pleasant flying experience I have ever enjoyed. I don't know about you, but usually I feel uncomfortable asking the stewardess for anything, a drink, a snack, whatever. Not the case. The flight attendants constantly moved up and down the aisles to see if there was anything they could get for the passengers. Unfortunately, since I did not book my own flight, I was stuck in a middle seat. It wasn't too bad since I was able to walkabout at least every three hours and get a good stretch in.


The sweetest part of the entire flight, the technology. Each seat had their own screen with accompanying remote. If you look closely, you can see the remote beneath the screen to the left. Not only was I able to watch movies, 5 in all - Shutter Island, The Book of Eli, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, The Men Who Stare at Goats, and Invictus - but I was also able to play games on the screen. On the backside of the remote their was a joystick and buttons. The games weren't anything spectacular but they were still nice! Also, I could pause the movies if I wanted to get up and go to the bathroom or if dinner came. I was not at the mercy of anyone else. Needless to say, I got an hour of sleep which has helped me adjust to the time difference.

On the flight, I also got two meals and a snack. For lunch I had beef, mashed potatoes, bread, potato salad, and fruit. Snack was a banana and doughnut which was stuffed with beef BBQ - quite tasty. Finally, I had chicken and rice for dinner with a salmon salad and cheesecake. With each meal complimentary wine was served and there must have been three or four additional drink services. As I mentioned, my most pleasant flying experience to date. I cannot even fathom first class...