6.30.2010

Last Week

Well, Wednesday morning I woke up to a loud noise. Turns out the cabinet in my bathroom fell down, the glass broke, and it knocked the toilet out of its place. So, it really stank in my bathroom. The bathroom was a mess and unusable for quite a few days. Now, I have a new cabinet in the bathroom which seems firmly attached to the wall. I think the school is going to pay for the cost to have it replaced, at least I hope so, since I didn't do anything wrong. I guess I will find out on my next paycheck.

Speaking of paychecks, I forgot to mention that I did get one, which is one more than I got in Japan. It was only for the one week I trained so it was at 80% of my pay but it was still a few hundred bucks which was nice. I will get another one on Saturday, July 10th. In Korea, you only get paid once a month which is good and bad I guess, depends on how you look at it.

Then, in class, one student just started punching his desk and I didn't know why. He punched it again, really hard. By that time, the girl in front of him moved and he kicked it forward about 2 feet. Turns out the guy behind him called him a poor, homeless man or something of that nature in Korean, quite a few times which I did not hear nor could I understand if I did. So, I called the Teachers Assistant (TA) and the student did not speak to him. Then, the TA had to call the counselor. Finally, the counselor figured out what happened and explained it to me.

Also, last Saturday, Katrina and I got cell phones - woot woot! It is nice to be able to text each other. Additionally, it is a touch screen phone - sweet. For those of you who know me, you know I have had the same Verizon phone for about four years with no text messaging. So, this is definitely an upgrade. The phone cost a total of $20 and our bill for the first two months will be about $40 then we can change our plan. It usually averages out anywhere from $30 to $50 a month after that depending on the amount of calls and text messages you send.

After I got the phone, I went and played billiards with a few of the TAs. It was a Korean game with no pockets. The railing went all the way around. There were 4 balls - one yellow, one white, and two red. The object of the game is to hit the white ball into both of the red balls without touching the yellow ball. The next player must hit the yellow ball into the two reds without touching the white ball and so it continues back and forth between the yellow and white balls. It sounds a lot easier than it is and needless to say, I didn't make out very well. However, it was a lot of fun and I had a great time.

This Saturday we are definitely going to Itaewon to get Katrina a falafel sandwich and meet up with Transition (the guy from the trail) and his girlfriend Dani. They are going to spend the night Sunday and it is off to the Fortress again to show them around. Stay tuned for updates. I took a video of the apartment which I will try to post as well as a picture of the new phone. I hope everyone is doing great and loving life!

On a side note, my mother get her test results back on Tuesday and it turns out SHE IS STILL CANCER FREE!!! WONDERFUL NEWS!!! Take care.

6.26.2010

Boryeong Beach

My apologies for not updating sooner. Things have been a bit hectic here. The new job is not quite as easy as I thought. Now, my prep time is filled with grading essays and making phone calls. Once a semester, teachers call the kids to check in and make sure everything is going fine. That keeps me busy for about an hour and will last a total of two weeks. Also, every week, I have about 80 essays to correct. When I say correct, I really mean red on every sentence. These are elementary kids who are not native speakers. So, every sentence is missing a particle or the tense is wrong. There are even some statements that make absolutely no sense and I will sit there for a few minutes trying to figure out exactly what the student is attempting to say.

Enough about work. Last weekend, a colleague at work, Johnathan, invited Katrina and I to go camping. We talked a bit during work and I found out him and his girlfriend are really in to hiking and camping. In fact, they were both vegetarians before coming to Korea. He played ice hockey and is from Alaska. His girlfriend's name is Lisa. They are the two in the picture eating dinner which I will explain later.

I had my small bivy tent which Katrina and I were going to use. However, when we woke up Saturday morning before leaving and I realized I did not have the tent poles. So, we were off to Homeplus in search of a tent. Katrina had heard there were kids tents for around 15,000 won so that was our goal. When we arrived at Homeplus around 7:30 in the morning, we found out that the upstairs did not open until 9 am. Mind you, our train left at 11 am. We got some muffins and milk and waited.

To make a long story short, we found an English speaker and found the tent. We caught a taxi to the train station and arrived around 10:35 am, plenty of time in order to meet Johnathan and Lisa. We ended up purchasing standing room tickets but sat in the food cart on the train, not a bad deal if I do say so myself. I'll get pictures the next time we are on a train. We got to the beach, set up our tent, unpacked, and headed to the water. There was nothing special about the beach. The tides probably moved in and out over a hundred feet. There was a paved walkway from one end to the other. The whole town had a 'beach town' feel to it which was nice.

(Beach Shot)


The beach was small in my opinion seeing as how I could see from one end of the beach to the other. The waves were tiny, no higher than my knees, nothing like on the East Coast. However, I got in the water just so I could say I did. We ended up meeting some guys from New Zealand and played touch rugby. My first time playing was quite fun and it is something I will play in the future given the chance. The best way to describe it is football with no forward pass.



(First rugby match with the boys. Our team won!)


After hanging on the beach for a while, everyone went up to the campsite, showered in the sink, and changed for dinner. We went to a seafood BBQ place where you cook your own food. The seafood was quite delicious and Katrina even enjoyed it until a few hours later when it came back up. I do not know if it was because of the fact that she hasn't eaten that much seafood in so long or her consumption of soju. To cook the food, everything was brought in its shell or aluminum foil and we were given a glove to grab it off of the pit. There were clams, oysters, conchs, razor clams, and all sorts of goodies. It was very enjoyable. After dinner we set off Roman candles and hit the sack.


(Items in their shell or foil on the grill. If you look closely you can see the two large coals in the center under the grate.)


(Pile of shell fish that was brought to our table. The clams were delicious.)


(Katrina in her glory as she sets off a firework!)


The next day we hung at the beach for most of the day and relaxed. After our time on the beach we all went to a bath house. It cost about $3, you walk in, take off your clothes, shower, hop in the hot bath, then into the sea salt bath or mud bath (which Boryeong is famous for), next it is on to the sauna, then cold bath, then you paint yourself in mud. Finally, you take a shower to clean off again. It took an hour and a half and felt wonderful after being at the beach for two days. Nothing else major happened until we saw two old ladies get into it at the train station. I wondered why two old ladies would be fighting? Then I realized, it could be over anything. You need to know that old ladies rule the country in Korea. Men and women stand up so they can have a seat on a bus, train, or the subway. When they are walking, you move out of their way. They can pretty much do whatever they want. We got back to the station and shared a cab home with a girl we met on the trip.


(Second day on the beach it got a bit cold)


(A rock outcropping we walked to at the beach)

6.17.2010

Argentina 4, Korea 1

Contrary to the states, World Cup Soccer is very popular in many foreign countries, including Korea. This past Thursday, Korea was playing Argentina and if you haven't guessed by the title, it was a devastating loss for the Fighting Reds of South Korea. In case you don't know, I am not much of a soccer fan myself (nor Nascar for that matter). Anyway, one of the guys from work kind of follows soccer and invited myself and another guy out for drinks on Thursday night. We got to the 'Western' Bar around 10:15 and from there, it was 30 minutes of non-stop fun. We ordered a beer the got a red shot on the house. The lady bartenders were screaming and yelling and singing and dancing the whole time. Meanwhile, Korea is losing 3 to 1 but there is still this sense of hope. Even after Argentina went up another goal, every time Korea would touch the ball, even in the defensive half, those in the bar would stand up, hoping for a goal. It was unlike anything I have ever seen in regards to sporting events.

I finished my beer and ordered a second round for the guys. By this time, the game was over and the next thing we knew, there were three more shots lined up in front of us. Everyone around the bar had a shot, I am guessing to celebrate the game but who knows. Anyway, down the hatch that shot goes and before I knew it, while everyone was standing for the shot, the one bartender shouted in English, "Nobody sit, dance party now!" On comes this loud music, which is Korea's theme song for the World Cup, the whole bar is holding hands in the air and swinging them back and forth, and everyone is singing this song. I am holding the Korean man's hand to my right and a co-workers to the left. I look at the door, people walking by are stopping to see what is going on in this bar and why all the yelling. Thirty minutes of craziness.

We settled up on on bill and then walked home. I thought it had to be mid-night all the fun I was having. Sweat was pouring down my body. Korea has a very humid climate, more so than Pennsylvania to give you an idea. I checked my watch and it was only 11. It was a lot of fun in a short period of time. I wonder if it is because we were foreigners or if that is how things typically operate at that particular bar. Neither one would surprise me.

6.10.2010

Birthdays, Vacations, and the Fly Guys

Good news and bad news. First, the good news. Today was the owner's birthday so, after singing happy birthday, and the owner's short speech, cake was offered to everyone. I politely declined - not a big desert man myself. I came back from teaching to find pizza, from Dominos, another nice treat since I was planning on getting pizza for dinner anyway. I must say, the $30 Dominios pizza is definitely better than the $5 Pizza School equivalent. However, I can't see paying the extra money for a pizza that is a little better and a little bigger. In difficult times, Pizza School will suffice. So, that was the good news.

The bad news. One of my co-workers is going to Thailand on vacation next week. Yay, I am happy for him! However, I got stuck covering two of his classes. So, no dinner break next week. I will work from 4:10 until 9:20 without a break. I know, I know, woah is me... However, when you are used to it, it is a bit disheartening. To add salt to the wound, I will not even be paid extra for the classes I will be teaching due to the fact that I will not exceed the hours in my contract for the month! I guess when you only teach for three and a half hours a night, there has to be some give and take at some point. Katrina and I are headed to the beach this weekend and I believe Matt and Dani are making plans to join us. I think it is about a two hour train ride then a short bus ride afterwards.

Congrats to the Hawks. Watching the replay, it looked like a fluke goal, the shot taken about three feet from the goal line. Oh well, way to go Flyers, made it farther than anyone thought you would have made it.

6.07.2010

Female Monks at Donghaksa

video

(The monks praying)

More Photos from Daejeon


(Katrina and I on the KORAIL)



(People inside the straw structures)



(Transition, taking a picture of Katrina, who is taking a picture of me, while I am taking a picture of them - the tan dot in the distance)



(Notice the spelling...)



(Buddha dolls)



(Fat Buddha)



(More Buddha dolls around a rock structure)



(Some bathroom art I admired)

It's a Hike, a Real Hike (Daejeon)

Katrina and I caught an early train to Daejeon Saturday morning, our first time taking KORAIL and everything went smoothly. We arrived in Daejeon about an hour and fifteen minutes after departing and were met by Transition (aka Matt) and his girlfriend Dani. Transition and I met up on the Appalachian Trail and I have kept in contact with him ever since. It is quite a small world – sharing a few beers on the trail and now a few in South Korea.


As we were walking back from the Subway to their apartment, I started to talk to Transition about some straw houses I had seen online. The website said something along the lines that people had been living in that particular area for over 5,000 years and it was the only place in Korea thus far where archeological digs have recovered artifacts from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and one other Age. As soon as I started talking about the huts, he pointed to the left and said, “You mean these ones.” Sure enough, those were exactly the huts I had been talking about. So, I snagged a few pictures and we walked around the area for a bit.



(Straw houses)

After that, we headed back to their apartment before heading out on our adventure. Our original goal was to catch the 107 Bus to Gyeryongsan National Park and explore the sacred “Chicken Dragon Mountain.” We ended up taking the subway after waiting for the 107 for a few minutes (good thing because we later found out that the 107 did not stop at that particular bus stop). After the subway, it was a half an hour taxi ride to Gapsa Temple which cost 25,000\ or about $20. Dani and Matt had been to Donghaksa, another temple in the area and wanted to see this new temple.

We hopped out of the bus, spirits high, and began our adventure. There were some funky looking tree sculptures as we entered the area and began our trip. Upon arriving at a map, we decided to do a bit of a hike, see Gapsa Temple, catch a few waterfalls, walk to a peak, and end our journey at Donghaksa Temple, the only female Buddhist monastery in South Korea, so we could catch the bus back home and the cost would only be 1,300\ per person.

(Funky Human Tree)


(Dart game on the way to the temple. The objective is to throw the darts into the basket from a set distance. Some older Korean lady cheered every time one of us got one in the basket)


(Statues inside the Main Gate)

Gapsa Temple was beautiful and quite the sight. Katrina picked up a brochure about staying at the temple, a common practice in South Korea. Koreans and foreigners alike are invited to stay a weekend to experience the Buddhist culture and practices for about 30,000\ per person. This is definitely something I am interested in and hope to partake in in the near future. After exploring Gapsa and its surrounding structures, we took off on our hike.

(Inside the main temple at Gapsa)


(Painted doorway)


In our defense, much of the hiking in Korea, at least my experience so far, has been a short little jaunt up a paved hill. The trail has always been paved and not very difficult. Dani had on Crocs, Katrina and I didn’t have any water, and fortunately Matt had four Granola bars and a small water bottle. Off we went. We started off going to see a waterfall that was about .6 km out of the way and put our feet in the water after we got there to cool down a bit.

(First waterfall)


(Katrina drinking out of the communal cups before our hike began. Notice the turtle)


Next, we began our hike up the mountain. Now, when I say up the mountain, I literally mean straight up the mountain. After about 10 minutes the road went from paved to rocks and our dreams of an easy hike were quickly dashed. There were areas of the trail where I stood erect and could place my hands on the steps in front of me – just to give you an idea of the steepness. After an hour or so we took a break, soaked in sweat, Dani in our Crocs, and Katrina and I without any water and enjoyed our granola bars. We continued the difficult ascent and arrived at the peak.

Fortunately, there were some spectacular views from the peak. Rice paddies formed the intricate cut outs in the valley below accompanied with a few lakes. After spending some time on the pinnacle of the mountain and taking a few pictures, we hiked to another temple which was extremely close in search of some water. Luckily, there was a giant silver water bottle and we each got three or four drinks. At the temple, they were constructing another building and a worker came up to me and asked if I was hungry. I politely declined but motioned around the corner to the rest of the group.



(Rice paddies from the peak)

(Katrina and I close to the peak)


I saw Katrina talking to the worker when a monk came out and I assume, translated. Next thing I know, all of us were sitting at a table with a giant spicy rice cake with sugar on top, two huge pears, a tomato, some crackers, waffles, and four cups of hot coffee. Surely a god send for the four desolated hikers who were starving and thirsty. At this time, it was probably around 6 o’clock and all Katrina and I had to eat the whole day was a streusel. Dani and Transition had a bagel and that was all.

(Food from the Monk and worker)


(View at dinner)

(Monk, Transition, and I)


After refueling and thanking the monk, we continued on our hike, this time with a flatter terrain until we had a spectacular view of Donghaksa Temple. We again took a little break and enjoyed the amazing view, everyone snapping pictures so they could remember the view. Then, all the distance we covered going up we had to go back down. I don’t know about you but I would rather be hiking uphill than downhill, easier on the knees.


(Hike down another mountain)

(In the lower right hand corner you can see Donghaksa Temple)

(Myself, Katrina, Transition, and Dani in her Crocs)


After walking partially down the hill we ended up at another ‘waterfall’ which was little more than a trickle. We continued on to Donghaksa Temple and when we arrived, the female monks were chanting and praying. Three times a day the monks do 108 up/downs as I like to call them for the 108 desires according to Buddhism. It was quite the sight to see and an experience I will never forget. In fact, the whole day turned out to be amazing, from the views, to the monk giving us food, to the chanting monastery. We caught the 107 back in to Daejeon and took a taxi from the bus stop. Everyone was exhausted and tired but we made our way to an Indian restaurant and had an absolutely delicious dinner. Food always taste better after a long day of walking, especially when it is uphill.



(Donghaksa Temple)

(Donghaksa Main Temple)


(Detailed work at the temple)


(Man who does the detailing)

6.04.2010

Medical Check

Today, in order to get my Alien Registration Card, I had to take a medical exam. The cost -55,000\ or roughly $55. However, the expenses were picked up by Avalon. The entire process was set up as an assembly line which was new to me. Instead of having one doctor take my height and weight, then check my hearing and vision, I moved right down the line to a new station.

Station 1: Weight and height. There was an electronic device that came down, touched my head gently, then went right back up again. Weight – 63 kg or 139 pounds. The last time I was this weight was Japan and before that, I believe it was my freshman year in high school. I do a lot more walking each day and eat far less, at least for the moment. For two weeks, it was difficult to get any kind of breakfast at the love motel or after I moved in to the new apartment. Height – 173 cm or 5’8”.

Station 2: Blood Pressure and Colorblindness. Passed with flying colors. 120 over 80 – healthy for adults and, I am still not colorblind.

Station 3: Vision. Did another quick colorblindness check and then covered my left eye and read the chart. After that, switched and read the chart with the other eye. One eye was a 10, the other a 12.

Station 4: Hearing Test. Whichever ear beeped, I raised my hand. Easy, only went through four test.

Station 5: Chest X-Ray. Walked in, the doctor or nurse placed the machine over my chest and I grabbed some handles on the back side. Heard the noise and then I heard, “finished.”

Station 6: Medical Interview. I walked in with Eric, the Avalon Handyman who has taken care of me so far. He is the one who got me bedding, pots and pans, towels, dishes, silverware, and cleaning supplies. He also picked me up today to take me to the medical check. Anyway, he walked in with me and the doctor asked him to leave. I am guessing for patient confidentiality purposes but who knows. The doctor looks over the chart, says, “healthy, healthy. Where are you from? America?”

I said yes and then he asked where in America. I told him Pennsylvania.
He said, “Ah, Philadelphia.”
“Yep,” I replied and then told him I was from Hershey.
Then, he blew my mind. “Amish,” he said and I nodded.
That was my medical questions examination.

Station 7: Blood and Urine. Plain and simple. I peed in a cup then a female nurse or doctor took blood.

According to Eric, it takes about a week to get the results back and then I can apply for my Alien Registration Card which takes another two weeks. After that, I can get a cell phone. I was extremely impressed with the efficiency of the entire process and figured Mr. Ford would be proud.

6.02.2010

The WorkPlace

Three days down and who knows how many to go. Honestly, after getting a handle on the minute details, the first three days of work flew by. The first few days were nice because the students had orientation for half the class. Therefore, I only had to teach half a lesson for my three classes on Monday and Tuesday. Also, since it was only half a class, the lessons went by rather quickly.

Today, the students received their newspapers. The students who come on Tuesday and Thursday get the same lesson as those on Monday and Friday. However, on Wednesday, students get to read out of an artificial newspaper created for their level. The students who attend the Wednesday classes generally tend to "level-up" due to the increased vocabulary learned from their Wednesday lessons. Today, we discussed the Shroud of Turin, soccer star Wayne Rooney, the necessity of homework, as well as a few other topics. Newspaper day is reserved for discussion. There is no particular goal to the class other than to get the students to communicate. Again, not that difficult considering the topic matter. One thing to keep in mind however is that these are elementary students. I never heard about the Shroud of Turin until I was in college. I must say, these students are rather intelligent.

Apart from work, I forgot to mention that the whole elementary school went to Korean BBQ on Friday after work. There are four other 'foreign teachers' not including myself and six Korean teachers. At the Korean BBQ we had pork, kim-chi, and all sorts of other food. The interesting part of the meal was the fact that the meat was brought to our table raw and I am not sure if you can tell or not, but there is a grill in the center of the table to cook it. Unlike any restaurant back in the states; however, I did have a similar experience in Japan. The big event was held for the one teacher whose place I took as well as three other Korean teachers who were leaving. All in all it was a delicious meal and on Avalon, so free.

At the moment, my big concern is moving in to the apartment. I need to do a deep clean. There is a very poignant odor coming from somewhere so that is the goal for tomorrow. Hopefully, after cleaning, it will disappear. I got some supplies from HomePlus (the Korean version of Wal-Mart) and tonight, I received some gifts from Avalon (towels, forks, pots and pans, bowls, glasses, a knife and cutting board, spatulas, and some zip-lock containers. A nice deal and now i can begin to purchase some groceries.

The kids are great and I am having a lot of fun. At times, they can be quite chatty but as long as they are talking in English it is no big deal. This weekend, Katrina and I are planning a trip to see a buddy from the A.T. who is also in Korea so that should be fun and hopefully, I will have some great pictures. We are taking a train and it is about an hour and a half ride. Cost - about $10 one way. Hope everyone is doing well and following their dreams, whatever they may be...


(Korean BBQ)


(Out of one of the windows)


(View of Avalon from the street - 8th floor, blue, white, and gray flags)