Friday, October 19, 2012

Today's Cultural Experience

I had the grand opportunity to go to the doctor today. Have no fear, it was just a health check which I needed in order to get my ARC. I was lucky enough to have a fully functioning Korean with me who knew the drill and knew exactly what I needed to do and when, although his English is not very good. Not to mention, this Korean is a bus driver for my school. On one of my first days at the school, I was informed that the bus drivers are much more than bus drivers; they pretty much do everything around the school, not to mention most of them have engineering degrees (go figure). To name a few things they do: drive buses, drive me to the doctor, clean around the school, paint the school, get the persimmons out of the tree with a broom, help me move my luggage from apartment A to apartment B, the list goes on.

Anyways, he drove me to the doctor, I had my chest x-rayed, my weight and height checked (which was actually pretty cool because it was this automatic thing that slides down until it hits you in the head and then it records it and goes back up), sight, sound, blood test, urine test, the usual. The hospital itself was actually buzzing with a lot of people, but they put people through so quick it's AMAZING! I waited for 20 minutes to get my x-ray (which was apparently a mistake because the first lady I talked to came running over and was like "they still haven't seen you????" and then talked to the lady and then came to me and was like "ok you're next"...she was a little put off by it). Once I had my x-ray, the rest of the things happened within a half an hour. I even talked to a doctor in that time, of course all he asked me was "do you have any diseases?" and "are you taking any medication?" Easy enough.

Tonight I had an ajumma (Korean for old can look it up and you get many different definitions about the age, but it is used to reference those ladies around this country that push and shove because they are old and have the right to do so) teach me how to eat ramen and rice. Keep in mind, I have had plenty of ramen on my own before, even ramen and rice (up on the mountain), but she felt like taking me under her wing. I also feel like she had a camera because I, ever so quietly, snuck into the kitchen and then 2 minutes later she popped up and was trying to feed me rice, some meat, and kimchi. I took the rice, brought my ramen packet, and then she proceeded to cook it for me. I was just gunna put some hot water in a bowl and bring it to my room. Not the case anymore... I was sitting at the kitchen table waiting for water to boil while she tells me something about Gangnam and that she has a house there or something. So the ramen is finally ready. She pours it into my bowl and I start to eat it with a spoon. She rushes over, grabs the spoon from my hand, shows me that I should hold the spoon with my right hand, use heavy metal chopsticks with my LEFT hand and pick up the dangling noodles and put them on the spoon, then she blows on it, and feeds it to me, like a small small child. I smile and nod as she's shoving noodles and rice into my mouth, quickly take the spoon and chopsticks from her, decide it is in my best interest to hold the spoon in my left hand pick up the danglers with my right hand. She finally leaves the room and I'm thanking God. Then she comes back, laughing, and hands me a fork. Thank you dear lady. Thank you.

Now let's talk about probably one of my most idiotic moments I think I've ever experienced in my life. I must preface this with the layout of my apartment. I get out of the elevator, walk down a corridor and there are glass doors. Most of the time the doors are open and I can walk in, go down the hallway and unlock my door to my room. However if the glass doors are closed, the landlord showed me how to wave my card outside in the first hallway and I'll hear a beepbeepbeep and the door will unlock. However he did not show me/tell me how to get out from the inside. Previously this had not been a problem because the door was always open when I wanted to leave. Last night, I decided to leave when the door was closed, so I walk up to it and push on it (the door says push, so that's not my blonde moment) and it doesn't move. I look around hoping nobody saw, and then in a fluster walk back to my room. I decide to give it another go thinking "maybe I didn't push hard enough" and "I should look around for something to wave my card by on the inside." I go up to the door again, first putting my shoes in their cubby, realizing that I might legitimately wait by the door till someone comes in or out, and then I push on the door really hard. It still doesn't move. I look for somewhere I can wave my card by. I see no where. I see a little black button next to the door that says "push" so I push it, hear a weird noise, but nothing happens (keeping in mind that many "automatic" doors in Korea have a little push button and then they slide open...pretty cool, also relevant). So I end up standing by my cubby, pretending to text, and within the minute someone comes in and I slip out. It's quite alright if you're laughing at me right now because I laughed out loud at myself multiple times throughout the night whenever I thought about it.

Today I go to leave for school, and the door is shut. I try the button again, I try waving my card by an internet box (that's right, I was trying it all), and fortunately within the minute someone walks in again and I sneak out, laughing at myself again because I STILL don't know how to get out of my apartment.

Here is the best part. I'm telling my head teacher this story today as we're sorting and filing things while I'm "training" and his suggestion was "maybe there is a button somewhere you push." My response: "There totally is! I tried it and it didn't work!" His response...."maybe you have to push the button AND the door...." FREAKING GENIUS! Now, I have yet to try it, but as soon as he suggested it, I thought about that clicky sound the door made when I pushed that button...I'm quite positive that was the door unlocking. Stupid me was waiting for the door to move all by itself like the automatic doors do when you push the "push" button.

Here is the even better part. Although nobody saw me in the flesh, CCTV has their eyes everywhere and I'm sure they, as well as whoever was watching on the supposed apartment cameras that my ajumma had her eyes on, got a KICK out of this stupid American girl pushing a locked door multiple times, then finding the push button, pushing it, and then JUST STANDING THERE. Freakin idiot.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Recent Happenings

Friday, Amanda and I hiked Bukhansan. This was a much shorter hike than Daecheongbong (only 3 hours) and at the top we could see all of Seoul. It was a much different view but really awesome as well. I think the coolest part about hiking around right now is the fact that all of the leaves are changing and it makes for a very pretty fall. You don’t get to see that in the city, but you get to see it when you get out and up just a little bit, it’s awesome.

This weekend I went to the floating lantern festival in Jinju with Brigitte, Scott, Michael, and Danielle. We walked around the fortress and saw lots of different lanterns not lit up during the day both in the fortress and around the town and in the water, but it was even cooler once it got dark out! Everything was glowing and bright. Unfortunately, my camera is not so great, so I will have to post pictures stolen from Brigitte when she gets done editing them and such. I have a few non-glowing though for your perusing enjoyment.

In other news, I am starting my job this week. Originally, I was supposed to move in next weekend and start next Monday. However they wanted to see if I was interested in starting early, and I am running out of things to do for now, so I said sure.  

Today I spent some time with my director and the principal (his wife) of my school, looking at 3 different housing options for my 2-3 week temporary living. The first was what they call a “love motel.” In the Korean culture, you live with your parents until you are married. Therefore, if you want to have sex with someone, you go to a love motel and rent it by the hour or night or whatever. Naturally, I was a little sketched out by this place, not to mention it had no fridge or laundry or anywhere to cook. Option number 2 was a bit further away, but a much nicer place with a loft bed and small area with a desk and some drawers behind it. It was the biggest of the 3. The third place is a 15-20 minute walk from where Brigitte and Michael live, it is by a small, cute area where there are a bunch of restaurants and coffee shops (including the Mexican restaurant that the DYB people frequent), and it is right in the area where the other teachers from my school live. Although it is approximately the size of a shoebox, I find that it is the most convenient location wise and I can handle shoebox living for 2 weeks. The owners/landlords are very nice, although I had a very hard time figuring out the payment situation. At first I thought he was telling me I needed to pay him 430,000, which I don’t even have, and then I found out that that was the rent but that my director already paid that, all I had to pay was the 20,000 key deposit that I get back in 3 weeks. Phew was that the most challenging conversation of my life. It literally took me texting my director to figure out what the heck my landlord was talking about.

The reason I’m in temporary housing is because I ease my way into the classroom with the teacher who is currently teaching the class. Since she is currently teaching the class, she is still also currently living in her apartment. In 2 weeks time, I will fully take over her class and her apartment. This is good for multiple reasons, including not being thrown into the classroom with no understanding of what was currently in place, seeing my apartment before I move in and telling the previous inhabitant what I want to keep and not keep, and hopefully gain an understanding of where I’m living.

I also got to visit my school for the first time today. I got a really quick run through so my head is still kind of twirling but essentially we teach from 1030-3 with an hour lunch break and then have planning time from 3-4 which is when the elementary kids show up. In the morning, we co-teach a Kinder class, or multiple, either 40 minutes or 2 hours depending on which class, and then from 4-6 we have our own class that is in the 1st through 4th grade range. Tomorrow I shadow the full day and get a better orientation of what is expected of me. 

Adventures with Amanda

Sunday Amanda and I decided to take a trip over to Sokcho and see Sorakson National Park. We got to Sokcho, walked along the beach then started making our way south a bit to try and find this beach called Sunrise Park where we could supposedly camp for free. Well we finally stopped (as it was getting dark) at an info center and then decided to keep walking. As we kept walking, we found that it was dark out, we were walking along an interstate, headed towards nothingness. We finally decided to catch a bus back to Sokcho and as we passed the place we got our info about where we thought we were, we realized that that was Sunrise park. We also decided there was nowhere to camp there.

After dealing with figuring out the bus fare for 10 minutes with the bus driver telling 2 old Korean women how much we owed him and them trying to communicate it to us, we finally ended up back in Sokcho where we made a decision to head up towards Sorakson so we could start our hike in the morning. We hopped on a bus going back the direction we just came from (since Sunrise Park is where the bus turns to go up the hill) and landed ourselves in a hostel (a very nice one at that)! We decided to hike Ulsanbawi in the morning first, which is known for having 808 metal stairs to get to the top of this giant rock and was about a 4km hike. We also had to hike 2km from our hostel just to get to the national park. That was a very fun hike with a very rewarding view of the ocean and Sokcho as well as the rest of the national park. There were lots of schools on the hike that day and we made many friends in the 12-16 year old girl category. Some were scared of speaking English to us and literally ran away, and others embraced it and like to practice and find out where we were from. When we got to the top, they were very excited to see us there and offered us many congratulations. They were adorable. We also saw this 4-5 year old girl climbing all those stairs and her mom was all about her daughter having her picture taken with us at the top (apparently we’re kinda famous?) so I snapped a picture of her too. This also gives you an idea of the age range of people climbing all of these stairs (4-70)! We hung out at the top for a little bit and some lady gave us some sort of delicious nut. I wasn't really sure how to eat it until she showed me, but it was quite yummy.
 If you push this boulder it will rock side to side. 
 808 stairs

 These are the ghetto old stairs people used to have to climb.

 general age range...4-80
The nuts I ate that were yummy.

We hiked back down (of course making more friends along the way) and then grabbed some food. Amanda was explaining to me that Koreans don’t like to be uncomfortable, and they will do what they can to make themselves comfortable. With this in mind, you must realize there were many places to get food and water along the way (and by food I mean you could have bibimbop made for you right there on the mountain). All we brought for our journey were 2 apples, a can of tuna, a box of crackers, a small can of peanuts, and some rice ball things.

After our lunch and 8km of hiking we had already, done, we started our 9 km trek up Deachongbong, one of the top 3 biggest in Korea (its actual standing is currently in debate by a few friends). As we hiked up, many people were coming down. Lots were giving us their greetings, others stared at Amanda and I because we were in tank tops and she was wearing shorts (it was HOT going up but they seemed to think we were freezing), and still other being like “You’re climbing Daechongbong? Today? Really?” YES! Yes we are. We were originally planning on camping somewhere along the way, for we had seen there were marked “shelters” in the guidebook and figured we could camp by one. Little did we know you need reservations to stay at said “shelters” (remember Koreans don’t like being uncomfortable). As we were approaching the second shelter, we were told that it was full and that we were going to have to camp outside. This would have been fine had Amanda brought a sleeping bag. Instead we had 1 blanket, 1 sleeping pad, 1 sleeping bag, and 1 tent. Her intent was to wear the blanket and wrap herself in the tent so as to avoid freezing to death. We finally arrived at the shelter and a couple had us sit at their table with them. We cracked open our tuna and everyone laughed their little heads off and then were like “what are you going to eat that with?” We had planned on scooping it with our crackers, but that was not ok with them so we used chopsticks. As we were enjoying our dinner of tuna and crackers, the first people we had met a little earlier on said there was room for us in the kitchen with them to sleep, so Amanda went and checked it out and decided that would be much better than sleeping outside. We left our elderly couple and headed inside where we found a model for traditional clothing and her husband, and a group of 5 men who were climbers, 2 of which were also monks. The one who spoke English the best informed us that he had lead a 2 pitch 12.d trad on sight that day (to the climbers out there, that is INSANE, to non climbers 2 pitches means 2 rope lengths, 12.d means 100 degree angle with nothing to hold onto, trad means you place your own gear which makes it harder and scarier, and on sight means he had never seen anyone climb it before). Not to mention they were all in their late 30’s or older, including one man who has been teaching climbing for 40 years who we aged at around 60. We sat down in the kitchen with them at 7, and had to pretend we were cooking until 9 when the kitchen was closed, otherwise people would kick us out and try and take over our space to cook instead of them. 9 rolled around, we all snuggled up, and the chorus of snoring began. Not only was it only 9 and we had just had coffee to warm us up, but there were 9 of us in an 8x12 kitchen. We were smooshed. All in all, I probably got 45 minutes of sleep. We woke up at about 430, ate breakfast of ramen and rice (thanks to our climbing friends) and started on to our summit by 530.

 This is where we slept.

 Sunrise. 1 hour of sleep.
 We did it!

Our original goal was to see the sunrise from the top of the mountain, but we realized about half an hour into our hike that that wasn't an option. We did still get to see the sunrise from an amazing point on our hike and then continue to the top. There was a time when I didn't think I was going to finish because of the amount of exhaustion and struggle I felt, fortunately, the last 1.2 km were probably the easiest. It was absolutely gorgeous from the top and I’m so glad we finished the summit (1708 m).

On our hike down, we made some Korean friends that helped us with the bus schedule to our next destination and taught us some Korean words (although I don’t really remember what they were). I have also decided that my first, or maybe second, big investment is going to be taking Korean because it is absolutely driving me crazy to stare blankly into someone’s eyes and have NO idea what they’re saying to me.

That night, we arrived in Andong with the intentions of going to a traditional village, the mask museum, the paper making museum, and the soju museum. We stayed in a jjimjilbang, which is essentially a spa where you can also sleep on the floor. There also happens to be a lot of nakedness there which was a little frightening, however I've never been to a spa in the US so I don’t have much to compare it to.
The traditional village was really awesome. I don’t really know how to explain it so I’ll post some pictures below.
 The rice patties
 Really cool village
 These people are picking peanuts...who knew they grew underground.
 There they are.
 Really cool cliff by this village.
 There's the village and rice patties

We didn't end up making it to the mask museum, mostly because we decided we saw plenty of masks in the traditional village, nor did we make it to the soju museum, mostly because we were exhausted. We did however make it to the paper making “museum” which actually just turned out to be a demonstration. I’m not sure if they often do these sorts of demonstrations but we joined up with a university class and they let us partake in the process as well. We got to make our own paper!
 First you scoop it.
Then you shake it.
Then you press it.
Then you dry it. and that's pretty much it. 

To sum it up; travelling with Amanda equates to quite an adventure, but it sure does make for a good story. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Last Weeks Exploration of Seoul

Last week consisted of a few different places of interest. A temple here, a tomb or two there, as well as a few other things. I'll give you a brief recap so that you, too, can know a little more about Seoul.

On Wednesday, I got to go into the heart of Seoul and explore the Bongeunsa temple. It was quite pretty and I think the most spectacular part was that it was in the middle of a giant city. This kind of provides a nice place to go in the middle of your busy day and relax a little, get out of the busy life, and just take a breath. Here are some pictures to help me do some describing.

Notice that the roof tops of the temple are among the world trade center of Seoul.

These guys protect the temple

Tons of flowers for some sort of event that I'm not sure of. 

I’m going to be honest, this day was also my first (and only so far) day I had McDonalds in Korea. Here’s the thing, I was leaving the temple at 1ish, hadn’t eaten since 8am and was starving and frantic for food when I stumbled upon good ole McyD’s. But here’s the craziest part: I got a cheeseburger, medium fries, and a small drink for….wait for it…3,000 won. If you’re curious, that’s about 2.66 in USD. DAMN STRAIGHT!

As I was walking back to the subway, I stumbled upon these really cool dancers. I’m not sure what they were doing or who they were or why they were dancing but I got really excited and stopped to watch them for a while. The flag in the picture is HUGE and he kept running it over the crowd so it almost touched our heads. It was quite fantastical. 

Thursday I was going to venture to Bukchon but after my lunch date with Scott and Danielle, I decided to stay a little closer and ended up at another park in the middle of the city with some crazy tombs. They were the tombs of King Seongjong, Queen Jeonghyeon (his wife), and King Jungjong. Pretty cool stories too. Like the first king ruled at the age of 12 and had a few other queen prospects before his married queen. And the other king was originally buried next to his 2nd wifey person and then his 3rd had him moved to a place of more prestige (where it is now) except that during rainy season, it always flooded (there’s some irony for ya). Here are some pictures of the tombs.
Spirit pathway. You can't walk here, one is for the spirit and the other is for the king. 

Again, huge awesome "park" in the middle of the city!

People who apparently can't read English OR Korean because that sign says do not enter. 

Finally on Friday I made it to Bukchon. I kinda fell in love with the place. It was an awesome shopping district where there were narrow alleys and cobblestone roads with really cool houses and shops. I definitely want to go back there and do some shopping, because there were tons of shoes and scarves and bags and clothes and it was really cool. You could also see Bukchonson (another mountain to climb) from this area. 

These are some famous stairs in the area (I'm finding Koreans have a fascination with stairs)

I also stumbled upon the National Folk Museum of Korea. I wandered around for a while looking at the different village buildings and then walking around the museum not knowing really what I was looking at but finding it all fascinating. There was also a little station that told me all about Kim Chi, like how to make it, its history, and its health benefits. 

Friday night we met up with some friends and I got to experience my first Nooribong (karaoke room). It was really fun and we sang our little hearts out!