Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fishing, Friends, and Flabbergasted!

Ok so as many of you know, I posted some pictures on facebook of this lovely Hwacheon Ice Festival that I went to on Sunday. I would like to tell you all about it. But let me first tell you something not relevant to that story that I’m equally as excited about. I made real real chocolate chip cookies on Saturday. Like so real that I got to eat the dough. I also ate real real Pizza Hut pizza (supreme, no mush) and it was fantasmagical. YUM!

Ok so Sunday morning, leave my apartment at 7, get to the subway for an hour long subway ride INTO Seoul just to go on a 3 hour bus ride OUT of Seoul (see the irony here)? Anyways, we arrive to the bus station at approximately 8:15 and the next bus leaves at 8:35. Perfect. Since it’s early in the morning, we sleep most of the way there. Perfect. We arrive to Hwacheon and are shown a map and told which direction to walk. We are told to walk about 10 minutes and then left and we’re there in the foreigner fishing area. So we walk (it’s really only about 5 minutes) and we search for the foreigner fishing area. In doing so, we walk past all the Koreans ice fishing, noticing their fishing technique and tools. They do not use a fishing pole but a plastic thing that has a colorful plastic thing on the end with the fishing line wrapped around it and a lour at the end. Then they do this up down motion. Slowly drop the line down, yank it up. Repeat repeat repeat until you catch a fish. Ok so finally we figure out we’re in the “wrong area” because there are no foreigners. As we walk back, we see the huuuuge blue sign that says “Ice Fishing for Foreigners.” How did we miss this before? We walk up the area and the man says, “You need ticket.” We go inside to the ticket and the girl says “You need fishing tools, go buy them.” So we wander to go buy them and stumble upon the catching fish by hand thing about to commence. This man is talking in Korean Korean Korean and we’re like we have no idea what’s going on. Finally, all the people start cheering and a hoard of about 30 Koreans wearing orange t-shirts and blue shorts walk out of this big tent (keep in mind it is about 12 degrees outside). They are freezing, they do this ceremony where the man with the mic makes one guy stick a fish in his mouth (essentially he was telling them when they catch a fish, they have to put it in their shirt or in their pants to hold it while they catch another. He was also inferring that you could hold it in your mouth, but the boy who modeled this strongly advised against it as he spit out the nasty taste on the ground). They then spread themselves around the pool (still not quite in the water yet) and he asks 4 people to get in. They have to do this ceremony where they get all the way wet head and all, but the 2 girls flake. Then they do it again and the boys force them in. Good laughs by all. Then everyone gets in the water and the hand fishing commences. More good laughs had by all as people are sticking nasty fish in their shirts and their flopping all over the place.
Here are the people sticking fish in their shirts in the freezing cold water. 

After the hand fishing, we find Armando and Brigitte and head to buy some fishing tools. The man tells us the tool is 6 dollars and we were like ok let’s just get 2 and see if we can bum some off other people. He sells us 2 for 10 instead of 12. What a bargain. We go back to the tent, pay our 8 dollars to fish, and then the nice man who took our money tells us that we can borrow poles. Ok. Great. So glad we bought these other two poles then. So finally, we go to the ice and I stick my rod in the water, down up, down up. And I scream “I CAUGHT A FISH!” Everyone around is staring because I just screamed really loud and look really freaked out as this fish is flopping around on the ice. The nice man who let us borrow some tools had told me previously that when I catch a fish, I’m going to have to bash its head so it dies. Obviously I couldn’t do that, so I have Ellen de-hook it and stick it in my bag. The same man came over later as my fish is still flopping around. He tells me, “This is a male fish, I know because it is darker. When it came out of water, did it spray white things everywhere?” I was like “Hold up, what now? White things?” He says “Yes you know because when the fish knows it is going to die, it wants to spawn so it has more babies to replace him, so he sprays white things everywhere to try and make babies. Did you see this?” “UMMM no!” later realizing there was a lot of whiteish stuff in my bag. Anyways, 3 minutes later catch another fish. As we're catching fish, we hear this really loud sound, like a huge crash and we all look around like what was that?? An older man says "it's ok, it's just the ice cracking." We all look at each other in utter shock and fear and are like "and that's OK???" He says yes and it's nothing to worry about. Armando and Ellen are equally as successful in catching fish. Brigitte considers herself successful because she doesn't want to catch any fish (she feels bad for them, even though they add fish to the river so that the people can fish for them…).

This is the huge ice crack. 
This is me and my first catch of the day. 

Now we decide it’s time to eat, even though we’ve only caught 2 of our 3 maximum fish. We need cash so we walk down to the atm, buy some mulled wine (p.s. at this time, even after having their brains smashed by Armando and/or Ellen, my fish are STILL FLOPPING AROUND IN THE BAG) and head to have our fish grilled. The man takes our fish (6 total) and says “Ok, 6 fish, 9 dollars.” This is either a deal or a rip off because the sign says 3 dollars per fish. We were either only getting 3 fish for 9 dollars even though we caught 6 or we were getting 6 fish for what should have been much more than 9 dollars. Turns out the latter was true and we were very excited. The not so exciting part was when we handed over the fish and he laughed at us because they were too small. For your information, I HATE when Koreans laugh at me because they think I don’t understand something or I’m stupid. I don’t laugh at you for your small silly stupid things! DON’T JUDGE ME! Off my soap box. We stuff ourselves with fish till we’re full and move on to the ice tunnel.
This is us eating the fish...yes with chopsticks. 

On our way to the ice tunnel, Armando gets this very strong urge to go on this tube thing. It’s like you’re inner tubing on a lake in summer, but instead it’s a raft, behind a snowmobile, on ice, in winter. Previously, I was very set on not doing it because it looked stupid (the man was pulling people really slow) and I didn’t want a bruised but for going over a huge rock or something. With a lot of convincing, I went, and it was the best time ever. He pulled us suuuuuper fast (probably because we aren’t 8 years old), and we caught some crazy air. Overall, it was a really good time and super safe ;).

As you can see, a snowmobile and raft being pulled on ice...totally safe!

We finally made it to the ice tunnel, which was really cool, and then concluded our day with the ice museum, wandering around giant ice sculptures. Also really cool. They had sculptures of cultural things (palaces and whatnot) as well as random things (angel and butterfly wings).
Inside of ice tunnel (it changed colors)

We finally caught the bus back into Seoul (another 3 hours of sleeping) and a subway home. Overall, quite an awesome day! Hwacheon Ice Festival, you did me proud! 

I've never seen so many different kinds of winter/ice activities (snow boating, go karts on ice, 4 wheelers on ice, the activity above I showed you, ice skating, sled things. Soooo many options!)

How could we miss this sign the first time around, really?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Few Updates On my Life

Hello All. I just thought you might enjoy a few updates on how my life is over here in never never land where time flies so quick you don't even know what is happening.

For starters, I got a new co-teacher this week. My beloved previous co-teacher said goodbye to the kids on Monday, which gave Sara (the newb) one day to learn the ropes before diving head first into new water. Now I'm still not sure about Sara's teaching history, only because I have asked, but I think this week was quite a struggle. She's a trooper though and didn't let it get her too down. Although the management was hard for her (heck, I remember my first day teaching at this school and I had TWO WEEKS to observe before I started teaching) she was able to do it. It just made for a slightly scatter brained week. I realized how much Rhonda did and how much I've leaned on the fact that there are two of us prepping, lesson planning, and teaching because when all of a sudden there was just one of me trying to remember everything we needed and running all the routines and trying to manage the class at the same time. But have no fear, Sara is picking up on stuff, learning names, and figuring it out! Woo!

In other news, last night we celebrated our friend, Armando's birthday. For such event, we went to a wine buffet. That's right folks, all you can drink wine and appetizers for a whopping 35 dollas! The food was absolutely DELICIOUS and the wine was endless, at least from 6-9.  I think overall Armando had a good birthday and we all enjoyed celebrating it with him.

Today I'm on a journey to Itaewon. I've been there maybe twice, but I haven't really explored it. For those of you who don't know, it's a fairly Americanized area of Seoul. I'm really going go do a little shopping with a few of my co-workers/friends on a mission to find something very specific (more to come on this later). Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year!

Very quickly I'd like to tell you that I had a fantastic New Years. It actually felt like the holiday for the FIRST TIME! Woo! I got to get ready, all dressed up, helped a friend get ready, the usual. This was probably the best New Years I've ever had. I've learned something over time, don't get your hopes up for big events like New Years or your birthday because then they don't turn out the way you planned or pictured and you end up super upset. I've had that experience far too many times and this year, I wasn't expecting much from this New Years. It started with a little Korean BBQ and some drinks at our local fave, Geckos. Then we traveled to this 80's party and found that it was NOT our crowd or where we wanted to be (it wasn't a cool 80s party like you get at 80's night at Rumors back in Bham). So we ended up leaving there at about 11:15 with another place in mind hoping it wasn't too far and that there would be no line. Both were true and we had a BLAST the rest of the night. I witnessed the first snowfall of the year at approximately 5:15 am. My first meal of the year was KFC. It was an overall fantastic New Years Eve!

Last years resolutions consisted of 3 things:
1. Smiling more
2. Not letting other people affect my emotions or attitude
3. Getting to a foreign country.

The cool thing is that I think I accomplished all of those things. Sure there are always things to keep working on, but I'm especially proud of the third! I'M IN KOREA...in case you forgot :)

This year I didn't make any resolutions but I suppose I have stumbled upon a few:
1. Go to Thailand this year.
2. Prepare to go to Africa in the beginning of 2014 (financially and whatnot, that way it actually happens)
3. Learn Korean (I start classes on Monday).

Maybe I'll let you know if I think of any more, but for now, without really having thought too hard about it, that's what I want for me this year. Go get em!

Christmas in the Philippines

This year, all of my coworkers (except one) and I decided to go to the Philippines for Christmas. As you know by now, the holidays don't usually feel much like holidays around here, but we had this creeping suspicion that if we weren't off doing something around Christmas time, we would all end up sitting in our apartments alone on Christmas crying to ourselves and wishing we were home. In order to avoid this horrible fate, we booked flights to the Philippines for around $350 dollars (not bad) and 5 nights at this AMAZING resort. (Not my picture, although it does it justice...click on the picture to see more about the hotel).

So the story begins with our flight leaving Seoul on Christmas eve around 730pm. Fortunately this gave us all day to run errands and such (like get money from the bank or go to the post office and any last minute items we needed for the trip). We got in to Manila around 1130pm, mostly carrying USD because everything we read said we could pay for things in USD as well as Pp, or Philippino Pesos. The first night we were staying at the Ramada because we figured why pay more for a hotel when we aren't really going to use it that night. The shuttle for the Ramada picked us up at the airport (quite nice of them, really) and drove us through Manila. We were struck at the level and amount of homelessness Manila holds. The main street was lined with people of all ages (that's right, even small children) sleeping on the side of the road, playing in the road, knocking on windows for money. My mouth was literally open and I, as well as everyone else we were with, were shocked. At the same time, there are huge Christmas displays everywhere. We were trying so hard to figure out if the, what seemed like, masses of people were out and about because it was approximately midnight on Christmas eve, or if there really are just that many homeless people in Manila. There were families of 5 riding on one motor bike (mom, pop, one child in front, one in the middle and a baby strapped on the front or back of mom...I kid you not). And these amazingly cool cars called Jeepneys. As yo can see in that picture, it's an old jeep rebuilt out of scrap metal used as a form of bus transportation around Manila. We also saw a pedicab with 10 people on it. This picture has 4 inside, so imagine that, plus one on the left side, one behind the bike guy, and like 3 on the roof, it was insane. Again, we were shocked from the emotions we felt about this culture as we first stepped into it, also knowing that Manila is the most dangerous place in the Philippines.

We finally got to the hotel, tried to pay, and Ellen's credit card wouldn't work. The issue with that was that we gave her our money before we left for the Philippines so she could just pay for it. "Ok," we thought, "we'll just pay with USD"...nope not here, they won't accept it. So we begin to fret and start counting our pesos, thoroughly confused about how much money we had since we were dealing with 3 currencies. Realizing finally that we owed about 35,000 pesos per room and that we only had about 8,000 total,  the manager let us go to sleep for the night and we would deal with it in the morning...Christmas morning...where no banks would be open.

Let me throw in real quick that EVERYONE in the Philippines speaks perfect English (thank God for no language barrier, can you imagine???)

Morning rolls around, Ellen calls the bank, they tell her she can withdraw money from her card at any visa ATM (not true)...however we ARE able to withdraw from our American credit cards (go figure). So we all get enough money to pay, eat a nice Christmas breakfast, and then decide to have a celebratory drink and call our families...at 10 am.

After all that is over, we check out and head to our lovely resort. They let us check in early, they let us pay with American cash if we want (although we didn't actually end up paying right away anyways) and we hit the pool as fast as humanly possible.

The food we ate was amazing, much like a mini America, so we didn't eat much Philippino food, but food we miss dearly from back home and can't get in Korea. The people are SO kind (mostly). And surprisingly we made a few friends here and there along the way.

Now for a few culturally shocking experiences for you:
1. On our first night we wanted to go get some small groceries and asked the front desk if it was safe for us to walk. Their response "yeah, because it's Christmas." WHAT? If we were walking on any other day, it wouldn't be safe but because it's Christmas people will leave us alone??? Freaky. We did have a kid come up to us outside and ask for change over and over and over. He followed us across the street a couple times and then he finally decided to give up.
2. On our second day, we were headed to this outdoor mall to do a little shopping, perusing, and eating. On the way there, our car stopped at a light and we had a girl come up to our window and stare. Knock and stare knock and stare knock and stare. She wanted money or for us to buy her product and it was absolutely heart breaking. I'm not completely sure why we didn't give her a few pesos, it would have been very easy for us, but we didn't. I think partially because we had this suspicion that the money doesn't go to her but probably some man that controls her.
3. Dogs and metal detectors everywhere. Dogs by the gate of the hotel before you drive up, dog and metal detector at the door of the hotel, metal detector to get into the mall. Crazy! And yet at the airport, the lady isn't even looking at the scan screen to see what's inside our bags. Oh the irony.
4. The last is more of a story. One day we went to the historic part of Manila. We toured around a bit, then decided we wanted to go to the market. We needed to catch a cab so a young man hailed us one (although we could have done it all on our own) and pulled it aside so it didn't get crushed by a bus and made it wait for us. Then when we got in, he wanted coins. He wouldn't leave the cab door until we gave him coins. Again, based on principle I guess, we didn't want to give him any until the cab driver did, then we were like oh ok, it's something the locals even do, here's a couple coins. Getting int he cab we told the cab driver "Meter! We want to go to San Andres Market on the meter." And he said ok. Everyone was under the understanding that we were going to run the meter to the market. Part way down the road Ellen asks the driver, "Um sir, where is the meter?" (PS everyone in Manila called us ma'am so we got very used to calling people sir and ma'am while we were there). His response was "Package deal, I will take you to the market, wait for you, and then take you to Sofitel for 400 pesos." This price is outrageous since we got from Sofitel to the historic district for 75 pesos. Ellen starts to forcefully tell him that he told us meter and he lied so he needs to let us out of the cab right now if he doesn't want to turn the meter on. His response: "ok ok ok how about 150 pesos?" In retrospect, we should have taken that deal, but again, on principle, we say "No, you told us meter, you lied, so let us out or turn on the meter." He pulls over an says "Ok, 80 pesos for my trouble." NO WAY! Ellen, Rhonda and I get out of the car and he drives away. Now we're in the middle of Manila somewhere, we have no idea where, but we're by a golf course with a security guard so it can't be that unsafe, and we try and hail another taxi. Try and fail. Then we decide to move to another corner. Fail. Another corner. Fail. Another corner. Finally we are standing there after what seems like forever because everyone is staring at us and we're starting to get super sketched out and these 3 boys are walking up to us (one shirtless and yes that's relevant, also all shoeless). One bends down and picks something up right next to me, when really there is no need to be this close to me unless you're gunna take something from me and JUST in the nick of time, Ellen hails a cab. I kinda push the kid off because he's following me, get in the cab and lock the door. Rhonda is in the front sea and Ellen is on the other side where she closes the door. The kids walks around to her side as she's telling the cab driver meter please and where to go, the kid opens her door and Ellen turns and screams, thinking some shirtless man is going to get in the car with her and injure her. Fortunately he's just a kid, unfortunately he's a very strong kid. She shoves him off, and tries to close the door but it doesn't work. Finally the cabby gets out and tells the kid to go away in Tagalog (the language of the Philippines) and drives us off.

In retrospect there are a few things I would have changed with a little less of a hot head and stubbornness. 1 being that we shouldn't have gotten out of the cab not knowing where we were and just paid the man 150 instead. We ended up getting from where we were to the market in like 85 pesos, so total trip would have been about 110 so 40 extra pesos would have been worth it. Another thing I'd change is not paying the kid. He wanted money for "hailing us the cab" when he didn't really do anything, but as the cab driver told us after "Don't you have a couple pesos you could have just handed him and he'd walk away?" Duh...didn't we JUST learn that the last time we got in the cab? So yes, not the smartest decisions we've ever made, but we're safe and sound so no one should worry.

To sum up the trip. It was hot. It was sunny the last 3 days. It was fantastic to go somewhere new, warm, and sunny. I got a nice tan. I ate some good food. I laid by the pool as much as possible. What more could you ask for.

And now a few pictures:
Beautiful live orchestra in the Seoul airport on Christmas Eve. COOL!

The view from the Ramada window. Really awesome looking church. 

One side of the view from our Sofitel window. 

The other side.

Yes we arrived Christmas day just in time to see Santa!

Our pedicab ride. 

Did I mention that Sofitel is literally bride central? From Thursday to Sunday we probably saw 20 different wedding parties and I'm not even exaggerating. Probably more because that's 5 a day in 4 days and we definitely saw more than 5 some days. 

Best Greek food I've ever had (only Greek food I've ever had) but it was SO good!

That's right boys and girls. If you know me, you know of my undying love for FroYo and and I got some in the Philippines. 

This toilet says "Please do not squat." Do you think I wanna SIT on that? There isn't even a frame. 

Cool cars in the richer part of town. 

We saw some "fire dancers" (we were really excited because we thought they would dance with fire) but they really just did 5 or so different dances representing the different regions of the Philippines. Still really cool. 

Last night in Manila, drink in hand, beautiful sunset, and yes, that is a bride and groom holding their hands in the air in the background.