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This past weekend was my first Adventure Korea trip: a weekend of mountain hiking and butterfly watching – highly appropriate for the weekend after Earth Day. On Saturday, I woke up at the wee hours of 6:30am to catch the bus to Gangnam, to then catch the tour bus to Mt. Gangcheon. It was a four-ish hour ride down and I napped most of the way.

On a side note, Korea has some interesting rest stops. One that we stopped at had a generously sized garden in the women’s room, while another one had trailers that had been made into bathrooms. As in the kind of trailers that can be driven away. O_O

We hiked Mt. Gangcheon for about four hours and most of the time I was actually doing really well. There’s was a thirty to forty minute period where we were basically going straight up the mountain via stairs and rock that was pretty much kicking everyone’s butts but after that the adrenaline, endorphins and whatnot kicked in and we start booking. The view from the top was fantastic. Enjoy some photos:

My favorite picture of the trip!

Temples: Always a great photo opportunity.

On another side note, there were a lot of Koreans hiking too and most of them were older and clearly in better shape than all us huffing and puffing foreigners. We were told later that this particular hike would be considered easy to Koreans… Again:  O_O.

The climb down was much, much easier, partially because the path was better. Why couldn’t we have climbed up that way?! Halfway down, we ran into a building where a family practices an “ancient, Korean form of martial arts” (I was not told the name… the granddaddy of Taekwondo?) and they preformed for us. Very cool.

We ended the hike at a hot springs and stay there for about an hour before moving on to a galbi restaurant. It was good, but all the galbi I’ve had in Suwon is far superior. As it should be, since Suwon is known for its galbi.

Speaking of Suwon, there were about eight other people from Suwon on this trip. Most of them teach at other hakwons, however one of them is an April teacher in Dongtan.

On Sunday, we headed out to Hampyeong for the Butterfly Festival (함평나비대축제). Oh the things we did there. We toured a greenhouse where we released butterflies (while being filmed by a group trying to promote tourism in Korea). We caught rabbits and chickens. I caught a chicken (as a rabbit owner, I didn’t need to go chasing after a rabbit on my vacation) and for it won a bag of special Hampyeong butterfly rice. I do not know how different it is from real rice but eventually I’ll pop it into my rice cooker and find out. Originally we were supposed to catch baby wild boar but hoof and mouth disease is going around, so… we did not catch any hoofed animals.

After that, we ate some barley and peas that had been roasted on a fire in a hole in the ground. Very tasty. And as if that weren’t enough – we got to catch mudfish! Most people would not put an exclimation point at the end of that sentence, but I had a lot of fun. We wadded into a small pond and sifted through nice and thick much to find the eely little fishies while little kids (and those videographers that had been filming us) followed us around.

As it turns out, I’m a pretty good mudfisher. Everyone else was having a hard time finding and catching them and the people running the mudfish pond were having to throw more in to increase their chancing of catch them… But the big problem was they were shouting, carrying on and flailing about – you know, letting the mudfish know where they were. I however entered a zen-like trance and was able to catch two or three of them before anyone else caught one. At one point, I had one mudfish in my hand and I could feel one under my foot so I told one of the other girls on the trip about it. She caught that one and I felt ANOTHER mudfish under my foot. So with my free hand, I reached down and pulled that one out too with no struggle. You read that right: No. Struggle. I am the mudfishing master. Right after that, the camera people asked to interview me about my mudfishing experience. Its suppose to air with the other footage they tood on Friday at 7am, 10am and 7pm. But I don’t know on what channel…

Following the mudfishing, we broke off and explored the festival for another two hours before heading home. I went with another adventurer to hike up a hill where they had golden bats, but sadly we went up the wrong hill and by the time we realized the mistake it was time to go. But again, the view was beautiful.

Enjoy some butterfly festival pictures:

Aren't they adorable?

Oh, the glorious colors!

Speaking of colors…

There were, however, no butterflies at these flowers.

It's friendly. I promise.

Next weekend, I have a Chungdahm company picnic to look forward to and the following weekend, I’ll be on Adventure Korea’s Caving and Ferrying trip on Saturday along with some of the training gang. April is a busy month for me.

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English + Korean = Konglish

English + German (or rather, Deutsch) = Denglisch

English + German + Korean = … Kongsch?

Yesterday and today I taught Eagle Reading (one class, I subbed for – yay extra cash for no extra prep work!) and two of the readings had reference to German in them. One reading, in fact (addition transition!), was entirely about Schadenfreude, or the feeling of pleasure one gets from the misfortune of others. And by the time we got to the reading that had a reference to the Autobahn, my Tuesday Eagle Reading class (for which I was a sub) guessed that I could speak German.

My class, however, did not. Because they are not as awesome as Nicole’s Tuesday IRE class (… *sigh*…) Although, today was one of their better classes. For my class, I wanted to play Avenue Q’s Schadenfreude but… I counldn’t cut it down to a length that was both illustrative and free of vulgarities… Oh Avenue Q. So I played this instead.

I’ve been encountering a lot of random German here. First of all (listing transition!), Quinn also speaks German so sometimes we’ll practice with each other. Second of all, there were at least two other people in our training group that spoke German (or some German). And there are random German signs here, mostly restaurants. Like the Garten Bier that’s across from the bridge I walk over to get to work. Oh Garten Bier… It’s supposed to be Biergarten…

Anyway, just thought I’d comment on that. And I’m reminded that… I’ve been ignoring my Korean studies again… But I did learn a new word today! Temple: sa, or in hangul:사. I might be visiting a (random) temple in Gangnam(강 남, by the way) this weekend followed and/or preempted by a trip to Butterfingers, which I keep hearing is a restaurant (also in Gangnam) that serves the best breakfast foods. Holy Buddhist French Toast, here I come!

Yesterday was Independence Day, when South Korea celebrates it independence from Japan. The March First, or Sam-il (literally, 3-1) Movement (삼일 운동) started on March 1st, 1919, when independence fighters declared their independence… and were then captured, tortured and killed by Japanese forces.  But eventually Korea did get their independence and hopefully one day, Korea will be united again!

Suwon celebrated the holiday by hanging flags through the city on Saturday. And I had my Korean Flag hanging up on my classroom wall next to my American flag. There were however now fireworks, as far as I could tell, like American Independence Day.

Yesterday was also the day that I got my Spring 2010 term schedule, but I’ll have a separate post for that. The reason I bring it up is that the lessons I was teaching for my Monday classes (Bridge Reading) was about flags and I had every intention of bringing up the holiday in class to get them thinking about what flags mean and why did the city hang them up to celebrate… but I forgot. However, we were still able to have a pretty good class without me mentioning that.

Yesterday, I taught my Monday 4pm Bridge Reading class becuase it had been cancelled on Monday due to Lunar New Year. Afterwards, a bunch of the CDI and April teachers went out to a galbi (갈비) restaurant for dinner to celebrate Blake’s (the head instructor at April) birthday. Suwon is suppose to have the best galbi in Korea and this place was pretty delicious (and expensive! but that’s okay every once and a while).

After dinner, Maggie (the CDI faculty manager) and Jason (who works at Dongtan) said they were going shopping at Dongdaemun (동대문, meaning “Great East Gate” as Jason told us) in Seoul. Dondaemun is home to both the Dongdaemun Market and the Night Market, where you can buy all kinds of clothes and accessories. Quinn and I decided to tag along and possibly pick stuff up for cheap.

On a side note, Jason was telling us that Namdaemun (남대문, meaning “Great South Gate; also known as Sungnyemun -숭례문 – or “Gate of Exallted Ceremonies”) was apparently burned down in 2008 by some 69-year-old man. He burned down South Korea’s greatest treasure because, apparently, some land developers didn’t pay him in full for the land he sold them. And this wasn’t the first time he turn to arson to solve his problems – trying to burn down Changgyeonggung Palace… How is this guy managing to burn down Korea’s NUMBER ONE NATIONAL MONUMENT and a freaking palace?

Back to Dongdaemun! It was a neat little area and I wish I had brought my camera with me because the gate at night was pretty cool. We also drove by the bell they ring at (Solar) New Year. After sitting in traffic that shouldn’t have been there for a good amount of time, we eventually arrived at the Night Market, which is several streets of heavily packed yellow tents. Quinn and I got separated from Maggie and Jason pretty early on (yay for cell phones) so we ended up wandering over to Doota!, one of the department stores of Dongdaemun market.

SO. The Market. Jason had warned us it would be overwhelming for newbies and the night pretty sufficiently insulated us from being extremely overwhelmed but even in just Doota! … there was a lot going on. First of all, Dongdaemun market has 26 shopping malls. That’s not 26 stores – that’s 26 separate malls. With in each mall, there’s like… A LOT of stores…

Quinn and I wandered around Doota!, speaking German (we decided we need to learn the German word for ‘snazzy’) and marveling at the many-buckled shoes and that crazy sweater thing that zippers across the chest instead of down. I finally got a belt, which I’ve been putting off getting for it seems forever, for no particular reason. Quinn really wanted to get suspenders. I was pretty skeptical that we would find any but somehow, after looking at only two stores on the men’s clothing floor, we found them.

After that, we met back up with Maggie and Jason at Hello A/PM, another mall, where haggling was abound! Jason managed to get a ₩150,000 suit for only ₩100,000. Quinn (who I need to bring with me any time I plan to haggle because he’s pretty much vicious) was able to get a vest and jeans for a pretty great discount. However, it took so long to eventually get to that discount that I can’t remember how much the price was at the beginning. But the guys and gal at that stand of clothing were very friendly and excited to hear we were from the US and Canada.

To end the night, we all went back to the Night Market and picked up a couple of small things. Knowing that soon my sneakers will be giving out, I picked up a pretty cool pair of blue hiking boots (picture to come), which will hopefully come in handy when the weather starts getting nicer and I try hiking around the mountains of Suwon.

Today, I woke up at the early hour of 10 am (early considering today is possibly my only day off of this year – which meant I’d have to take advantage of it) and set out for the 5100 bus to Gangnam. I decided to go to Namsangol Hanok Village because that had specific activities for the New Year, whereas the Korean Folk Village, as far as I could tell, did not.

I was suppose to go with Quinn, who spent Saturday night in Seoul and came back Sunday night, but he didn’t answer his phone. Half-way to Gangnam, I got a call from Quinn. Apparently, he ended up staying Sunday night in Seoul too so we decided to meet up at the Village.

Namsangol Hanok Village is just outside the Chungmuro subway station (that’s the cool subway station – although not literally; it’s well heated). Before the Village were a bunch of street stalls selling kites and food and Quinn and I finally bought some street food: meat-on-a-stick. Verdict: delicious.

The Village was definitely a worth while trip. At the entrance there’s a little village made up of buildings that used to be elsewhere in Seoul but have been moved to the Village for preservation. In one of the buildings, you can make a reservation to learn how to wear a hanbok, but it was far too cold for that today. For Lunar New Year, they had musical performances in the Court and arts and crafts projects around it.

Before I get to the arts and crafts, let me also touch on the Time Capsule. Towards the back of the Village, there’s an area that houses the Time Capsule that Seoul buried in 1994. They plan to open it again in 2394 and when I read that I thought “Oh cool, I’ll come back to see that – oh wait… No… I won’t…”. There was a display talking about the different things they put in the Time Capsule(600 items! miniatures and CDs!), which included a plan for what they hope the future will be like. Pretty cool.

Also, the stone that covered the Time Capsule had quotes from different heads of states. However, the representative from the United States was not the president but… the governor of Honolulu. Whaaa?

And back to the arts and crafts! We bought tickets to make a traditional Korean kite (or as the Engrish sign said ‘a traditional kit’) and eat the traditional Korean ‘party’ food. I’m not entirely sure what they meant by ‘party’ food but I think they may have meant ‘festival’ food. The kite making was fun but it was extremely cold by the time we got a spot on the crafts table to make ours and I had to glue everything together with my (freezing cold to the point of numbness) bare hands. BUT! My kite came out magnificently. Then we ate.

The food ticket got us what I thought would be sweet porridge and a Korean pancake. It was not sweet porridge; it was Makgeolli (막걸리 – rice wine), and even though its a Korean tradition, neither Quinn nor I cared for it. The pancake was a seafood (해물파전 –haemul pajeon) complete with tentacles but I was too hungry and cold to really care about how I don’t like seafood, let alone tentacles.

After eating, we watched a really cool drumming and dance performance but sadly I still can’t get WordPress to accept my videos so we’ll just have to wait on that for a little while.

All in all, it was a very nice trip. Now sit back and enjoy some pictures!

Behold the entrance!

I don't know what this says or what it's for. But Koreans were taking pictures of it so I thought that I should too.

I like to think my rabbits will do this if a tiger ever breaks into my apartment.

Makegeolli and Haemuel Pajeon

Unfortunately you couldn't walk into this building, but you could take pictures. At least... as far as I knew you could.

My hand-made, traditional Korean kit(e)! It hasn't yet been flown but on its maiden flight I have ever intention of getting it up in the air to the tune of 'Highway to the Danger Zone'.

Woo! Two holidays in one!

First of all, the holiday you’re all probably familiar with: Valentine’s Day (밸런타인데이 – literally ‘Valentine’s Day’). They do celebrate Valentine’s Day here in South Korea – and in fact some of my students asked me if I would be giving them chocolate in celebration… Oops. I actually would have given them chocolate and maybe even made them little cards but… it did not occur to me… But the last week of term is coming up so I might be buying mygood classes pizza. You read that right: my GOOD classes. The students in my 4pm Thursday Bridge Listening class said that on week 13 we’ll have a pizza party (as if it was mandatory, which it’s not); they are not getting pizza, but that’s another story.

To get back to Valentine’s Day, the holiday works a little differently here than in the US. On Valentine’s Day, girls give guys chocolates, present, etc. On March 14th, Koreans (as well as the Japanese and Taiwanese) celebrate White Day (화 이 트 데 이 – literally pronounced ‘white day’), when its the guys turn to give girls chocolates, presents, etc. White Day was started in Japan as an ‘answer day’ to Valentine’s Day, with men expected to give nicer gifts to the girls who gave them chocolate on Valentine’s Day.

Holiday number two, in our holiday double-feature, is Lunar New Year (음력설날 – eum-nyeok seol-lal). Lunar New Year is supposed to be one of the big holidays in Korea, lasting three days, and people spend it visiting their families. On Friday my students asked me if I would be going home to the United States. Nope, kiddos. Teacher doesn’t have that kind of time or money (even though Friday was also Pay Day). Instead I spent the first day of Lunar New Year having out with the Training Gang in Seoul because two of us were celebrating birthdays this week. Here’s  are the two main things we did that day:

  1. First thing, we visited Bau House, a dog cafe, and got delicious chocolate milk shakes. Now you’re probably wondering, what’s a dog cafe? No, it is not where people eat dogs (although they do eat dog soup here). It is where people dine with dogs. Yes. Dogs. Once you get used to the smell, it’s delightful. Basically the owners’ dogs run around the tables/on the tables/under the tables and chill out with you. People can also board their dogs there for the day. And foreign English teachers can visit when they miss their dogs and want something to cuddle with.

AAR LAND-LUBBER, I be Captain Jack. If ye gots issue with the Bau House, ye be takin' it up with Captain Jack.

Most. Chill. Dog. Ever.

  1. After getting dinner and chilling out for a while, we went salsa dancing. Except it turn out it was line dancing. Except that turned out to be swing dancing. But there was dancing. The problem was… we didn’t really know how to swing dance. Some of us did, but for the most part we were all rookies. But it was still a lot of fun. And I got a bunch of free oranges from the place.

(Eventually a video of sweet, sweet swing dancing will go here, but I have to figure out how to get the video into a blog appropriate format first…)

Although Saturday was fun, I am a little bummed that the stuff I had been looking into doing (going to Jeju island for the Fire Festival or actually doing something festive for Lunar New Year) didn’t pan out… I was really interested in going to see the Namsangol Hanok Village in Seoul, which is supposed to put on traditional performances for the holiday but I couldn’t convince the others to go. Unfortunately the performances are only the 14th and 15th, but cultural activities continue until the 16th.

Tomorrow I plan to either go to the Namsangol Hanok Village and check it out or go to the Korean Folk Village outside of Suwon. Either way, I’m doing something traditional tomorrow!

Oh I almost forgot, Mr. Yun who runs the Suwon Yeongtong (where I worked) and Hwaseong Dongtan (where I was supposed to work) branches of Chung Dahm Learning bought all the teachers gift sets for Lunar New Year. A lot of the teachers were hoping that inside the boxes would be food but there was no food to be found. Instead, there was soap, toothpaste and shampoo (… what is Mr. Yun trying to tell us?). I was actually happy about that and since one of the other teachers didn’t need to supplies and gave me his gift set, I now have eight 180g bottles of shampoo, six bars of soap (avocado, tea tree oil and rose soap) and 12 tubes of toothpaste (various mint flavors). Which basically means I won’t have to go shopping for those things for a really long time. 감 사 합 니 다, Mr. Yun!

Here's the outside of the box (that is now gracing my wall as a decoration)!

Behold! Glorious hygiene products!

My up-coming schedule for the next three weeks has been altered because two teachers are finishing their year-long contract and another teacher is going on vacation. Which brings me to my two points (hmm, two points a post seems to be becoming theme here…).

Point #1: Because my year-long contract would end in December and thus prevent me from entering graduate school in 2010 (which had been my plan), right now I’m planning on extending my contract by seven months so I’d be ending in July instead. It turns out extending your contract is actually really easy to do because you can do it on a term-by-term basis instead of committing to a whole year, which would just put me back in the same situation I’m in now.

Point #2: Eventually I will have a week of vacation to take advantage of and I had wanted to go to Jeju island but I realized to late that the festival I wanted to see, the Fire Festival (들불축제), is during Lunar New Year (February 15) so it’s too late for me to go this year. But remember… I’ll probably be here next February to so I could go then.

The past couple of weeks I’ve had to squeeze in studying Rosetta Stone between teaching. I’ve been trying to get in the habit of doing a lesson or two before going to work since after work there’s almost no point. I don’t get back to the apartment until 10:30pm at the earliest and by then I can’t focus enough to feel like I’m actually learning.

But it seems like I am learning! Last week I overheard my students telling one of the counselors saying that the classroom we were using that day (we couldn’t use my normal one that day) was too hot. I was going to (and should have) turn around and say in Korean that the room is too cold.

And today when I was riding the bus, I noticed I could read all of the station signs very easily and could find Suwon Station (수 원 역) and the Yeongtong Bus Terminal without needing the English. I’ve known Suwon Station for a while but being able to recognize the Bus Terminal and other stops just by looking at the signs and not necessarily needing to sort out all the letters is definitely nice.

But the funniest thing I’ve learn has been from Karen and her friend Annah when they came to visit us in Suwon. Karen and Annah have just started taking Korean classes in Seoul and they were telling us about their first class, which sounded pretty interesting. Rather than teach them hangul or something basic, the teacher taught them how to say ‘Kakae juseyo!’ (I think -가 개 주세 요), which apparently means ‘Give me a discount!’. And the teacher kept saying that you need to say it whinnier. A very useful phrase, but I haven’t yet had a chance to use it.

I just finished watching Fantastic Festivals of the World‘s show on South Korea’s Mask Dance Festival, which is in the Hahoe Folk Village in Andong. The festival is a celebration of culture in Andong, especially their famous Hahoe masks. The narrator ended the report on an interesting note, saying that legend says you must see a mask dance at least once in your life before you die or you cannot get into heaven. And I immediately thought of the 1,000 Places to Go Before You Die book (from yesterday’s post), which did NOT include this festival anywhere.  Hmmm, it seems to me if you have to see this to get into heaven, it ought to be one of the places you go to before you die, eh?

2010’s Mask Dance Festival is 9/24-10/3. I think I might try to use my vacation time to go see this because the festival and the Folk Village look really neat.

Oookay, so now I’ve officially signed the contract and am in the final stage of the Visa process that will get started with teaching English in Korea. Even though I wasn’t happy with having an hourly contract, I decided to settle with it because if I pass on this one it could be another several weeks before another position opens for me. And frankly, I’m tired of this song-and-dance routine! That sounds awfully jaded – like I said before, this process probably goes smoother for other people, but I pretty much had problems every step along the way (and that’s seriously not an exaggeration…). So now I just need to sit back and wait to get my Visa code from the Korean immigration office. Then I can go to the Korean Embassy in DC (It pays to live near the capital!) and apply for my Visa.

This time around, I’m working in Hwaseong City(화성시), in Gyeonggi Province which is just south of Seoul. Hwaseong’s name is a little confusing because the city is outside Suwon (수원시), the capital of the province. Suwon is Korea’s last walled city and is the location of the Hwaseong Fortress… That is, the Hwaseong Fortress is not in Hwaseong… But apparently the two cities were once together referred to as Maehol-gun (매홀군). On a side note, I learned today that the ending -gun means it’s a county while -si (시) is a city.

I couldn’t find a lot of information about Hwaseong, at least not as much as I wanted, mostly because all the searches are coming up with the fortress and not the city. But I did stumble on the city’s official website. The places listed on the Culture and Tourism page look pretty interesting. I’m actually really looking forward to visiting the hot springs they talk about. I do love hot springs.

On thing about Hwaseong, its geography is eerily similar to my hometown. It’s a just off of a bay, surrounded by farm land, a stone’s throw from the capital. Hopefully this will make dealing with culture shock easier.