Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pixie Midnight

Tonight I broke down and did something I've been considering and rejecting for a month now: I bought a baby rabbit (or as my students would say, a "labbit"). Her name is Pixie Midnight (Pixie for short) and she is just about the cutest rabbit in all of Asia. She's quite friendly, too. I figure I can just give her to another teacher when I leave in nine months, and in the meantime, I have something cute and furry to help me miss my dog less.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Korean Spaghetti

We made spaghetti with the kindergartners today, which was quite humorous to watch. They were very nervous about putting the noodles in the pot, which resulted in a few of them just throwing the noodles in the air, about a foot from the pot! Then when it came time to see if the noodles were done, Cate wanted each child to get to throw a noodle (if the spaghetti is done, a noodle will stick to the ceiling when thrown). Of course, hitting the ceiling is easy when you're my height, but for the little kindies, it was pretty much an impossible dream. Two kids managed to get their noodles on the ceiling, while the others had noodles landing all around the room. I am really glad that cleaning up is not part of my responsibilities! When the spaghetti was done, the kids dug in with their chopsticks. Believe it or not, it's actually a lot easier to eat spaghetti with chopsticks than with a fork.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Only Time I Regret Not Having a Car Anymore

It has been raining all day long, which is not the most welcoming thing to ride a bike to school in. This morning I got completely soaked getting to school. Cate took one look at me and burst out laughing. Then concern clouded her laughter when she recalled that I still have that cold/sinus infection/whatever-the-heck-it-is. She immediately grabbed a towel for me, which I greatly appreciated. After drying off a bit in the two hours of kindergarten, I then had to go back out and get re-drenched! It was the first time since leaving the USA that I have missed owning a car.

For the afternoon classes, I carried an umbrella while riding my bike. I still got a bit wet, although not nearly as much, and I had the added benefit of amusing several Koreans. I like to do my part to brighten my corner...

For the enjoyment of my readers, here are some of the latest cute quotes from the kids:

Me: "How are you today?"
David: "I am hot and smelly!"

(During a discussion about occupations)
Me: "If your father is driving too fast in his car, who does he get into trouble with?"
Jake: "My mother."

Me: "What shape is this?" (pointing to a circle)
Harry: "Fat!"

Me: "What does a zookeeper do?"
Sam: "Eats the animals."

Me: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Evan: "Lee Myung-Bak [current president of South Korea]."
Me: "You mean president?"
Evan: "Yes"
Leon: "Teacher, I go to USA if Evan president!"

Me: "What is something that is juicy?"
Leon: "Cognac"

Me: "Is it still raining outside?"
Toby: "No, Teacher, cloud is spitting."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Packing Suggestions for Foreigners Coming to Korea

It has come to my attention that I have several readers who are preparing to come to Korea. Since I have been where all of you are, excited about the adventure, but nervous about what to expect, and unsure of what to pack, I'm offering a bit of assistance. I went crazy trying to figure out what to pack, especially since airlines put so many restrictions on size and weight now. I was unable to find a good, comprehensive what-to-pack list, so I'm making one for all of you. I hope this helps.

First of all, a few words about airlines and their restrictions. The restrictions on luggage vary depending on what airlines you fly out on. Most likely, you will be using two different airlines for your trip, and it is likely that the restrictions will be different on each one. I have done some checking on the policy of charging for a second bag, and it turns out that that only applies to domestic flights, so for international travel you can still check two pieces of luggage. Below are links to the luggage restrictions for several major airlines (in alphabetical order):
British Airways
Korean Air
Singapore Air

Now as to what to pack, I can offer you the following list (this is geared towards women, but men can benefit from this list as well):

Clothing - If you wear over an American size 8 and you are going anywhere other than Seoul, pack as much clothing as you can. You will find it hard to find pants over here that fit. If you are going to Seoul, you should be able to get clothes there, unless you are over an American size 14. Anyone over that size needs to pack as much clothing as possible; Korean women are very small. If you wear over a B cup, don't count on finding bras here. Everyone should be sure to pack for all seasons; winter is very cold and summer is very hot and humid. Korean women do not wear spaghetti strapped tops except as undergarments. Topwise, they tend to dress modestly. Check with your director as to any dress code for teachers at your school - in my case, jeans and t-shirts are fine, but many schools expect teachers to dress nicer. Socks are plentiful, cheap, and cute here.

Shoes - If you wear over a US size 8 shoe, you may have trouble finding shoes. Don't weigh yourself down bringing a ton of shoes with you. Bring shoes that are comfortable for walking and that are easy to take on and off, since you'll be removing them a lot. Don't bother packing flip-flops; you can get them here. Wear your heaviest pair of shoes on the plane to save weight in your luggage. I recommend packing a light pair of slippers in your carry-on so that you can just leave your shoes off on the flight - it's a long trip getting to Korea.

Electronics - Make sure you bring your laptop computer if you have one. You can inexpensively buy a converter over here to plug it in - don't waste space or weight on bringing a converter from home. Do not waste space on hairdryers, curling irons, or electric razors; you can get all of them over here, and the plugs and current are different as well. Don't bring your cell phone; only Korean phones work here. They're better anyway, so you'll be happy to get one here. Portable DVD players are nice for the long travel, but if you fly Korean Air, you'll have a personal LCD monitor with over 60 films to choose from on the flight. Do bring DVDs; they're nice to have and plus, you can swap with other foreigners and host your own movie nights to socialize. If you don't have a digital camera, buy one here - they're cheaper and better than the ones at home.

Bedding - don't waste space on it. If you absolutely cannot sleep without sheets, bring one full size set with you - sheets are pretty much unheard of here. I brought a really soft, plushy blanket with me, which has been nice to have. If you're particular about your pillow, bring one from home. I didn't bring a pillow, and I am perfectly satisfied with the two I have here.

Toiletries and Feminine Needs - Bring travel-size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, since you may not be able to get to a store right away. Don't waste space on big bottles. Korea has awesome bath and body products. Don't waste space on facial products or lotion either - you can get better stuff here than at home. Do bring as much deodorant as possible; it's hard to find good deodorant and the good stuff is expensive. I was smart and brought a year's supply. Toothpaste and toothbrushes are easy to find, but not fluoride toothpaste, so you may want to bring that. Contact solution is sold at all the pharmacies here, and they have many of the name brands. Pads are easy to find. Bring a year's supply of tampons. To save space, consider buying the compact style that Tampax pearl now comes in. If you are prone to yeast infections, bring some meds with you. Makeup is quite easy to find here, and they have some really nice products. Bring enough basics to get by at first, and then buy more here.

Medication - Korean pharmacies and doctors are great. However, when you first arrive, you won't know the language and you will almost certainly get sick, since your body will be bombarded with changes. I recommend bringing Benadryl and Clariton to handle allergies, as well as a good nasal spray and perhaps some allergy eyedrops. I recommend Musinex DM and Nyquil to handle the inevitable first illness. You might consider having your doctor at home give you a general antibiotic to bring with you. Once you are more familiar with your surroundings and know a bit of Hangeul, you should have no trouble getting meds here. Get a one year supply of all your prescriptions before leaving home.

Misc. - Books are great to have, but don't load yourself with too many. They do have English bookstores in several cities here, like Seoul, Daegu, and Busan. Many full-text books are available to read online at The Literature Page. Stationary supplies and notebooks are easy to find and very neat over here. A phrasebook is nice, but not essential. Flashcards and a puppet are very useful when teaching small children. I recommend bringing some teaching aids with you. A small book about your state or city will be of interest to your students and to the Koreans you'll befriend. Dishes and kitchen supplies are a waste of space - you can get them all here, and almost all directors will provide you with the essentials.

Must Haves - Bring one bath towel, one hand towel, and one washcloth. The ones they have here are much smaller and rather weird for us westerners. Bring pictures from home and possibly a map or two; your students and fellow teachers will be eager to see where you are from. Buy one good guidebook - I recommend either the Moon Handbooks one or the Lonely Planet guide. Get the latest edition, since spellings of place names tend to change and can get confusing (ex. Gyeongju used to be Kyong-ju). Bring a few special things that remind you of home, since you'll be away for a year. Pack some protein bars in case you have trouble with the food at first. Most of us love the food here, but vegetarians and picky eaters will have a hard time.

One more thing - shipping isn't terribly expensive, so if you can't cram everything you want into the allotted space, have someone back home ship things to you. Use your school address to have your mail and packages sent to.

I hope this is helpful to all of you who are preparing to come. If you have any questions or concerns, I would be happy to help you, so just post a comment.

Guess I'm Sick Again

Having had a rather unpleasant week, owing to my allergies (most likely yellow sand is the culprit for setting me off), I was eager to go out with friends last night. Lizzi and I went to Baskin Robbins, where I tried mango ice cream for the first time. It is officially my new favorite ice cream flavor, even surpassing coffee ice cream in deliciousness. After that we hung out with our Korean friend Shaq at the Seven Eleven in Sungongdong for awhile, soon being joined by two more friends (honestly, everyone walks past that spot!). Then we all went out for fruit soju which I had not yet tried. My friends let me pick the flavor, so I picked kiwi, which tasted fantastic.

I got in at about 1:30 this morning and went straight to bed. I was feeling okay, and my eyes, for the first time all week, were not bothering me. When I woke up this morning, everything had changed. Now my voice is almost gone, I'm feeling just plain lousy, and I seem to have a bit of a fever. Owing to rain, the beach is off for today, so my friends are going to Busan to see the aquarium there, and then heading to a night club. I'm thinking of sitting this trip out. I just hope my voice is back by Monday. It would be next to impossible trying to teach the kindergartners with no voice.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bette Davis Meets the Creature

Well, my eyes are swollen half-shut again, and now my voice is raspy, varying between sounding like Jimmy Durante and sounding like Bette Davis. This is not attractive! Yesterday was really rough, because I had to load up on Benadryl to keep my eyes from swelling. Thus, I was very sleepy during my classes. It especially didn't help that one of my best classes picked yesterday to be horrid. I gave them a ginormous homework assignment as punishment, hoping that it will deter future bad behavior from them. The really bad part is that my director's daughter is in that class, and she was being the instigator! Not the happiest situation for me.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Banana Goat's Milk

I discovered something new yesterday: banana-flavored goat's milk. I'm not a milk drinker, owing to being lactose intolerant, but I had heard that goat's milk is supposed to be okay for people like me. So, being naturally curious, I bought the milk and tried it. It's actually pretty good. I found a way to make it better, though. I put it in my blender with some ice and a banana, and made a banana milkshake. Yum!

I created a tasty new dish for dinner last night. I made a marinade with some teriyaki sauce, lemon juice, honey, salt, pepper, and parsley. Then I marinated some pumpkin (not the orange kind, it's a green variety that they have here, which in no way resembles an American pumpkin), peas, and a yellow pepper in it. I cooked the mixture in a skillet on low with a bit of olive oil, and added some rice to it after about five minutes. Then, when it was all cooked, I rolled it up in lettuce leaves. It was delicious and healthy. Of course, there wound up being way more than I could eat, so I had the rest of it for lunch today. For a healthy dessert, I made myself some gwa-il bing soo. That also turned out well, despite the fact that I had no strawberries to put in it and had to make do with just bananas and kiwi.

Cate paid me a compliment today. She said that my Korean pronunciation is better than most foreigners. All this time, I've thought I was speaking poorly! Tomorrow, we're taking the kindergartners on a field trip to Millenium Park. Cate said there will be live shows to see, but of course, they'll be entirely in Korean. Luckily, I am getting to be an expert at non-verbal communication!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Argh!! Stupid Allergies!

I still haven't figured out what it is that I'm allergic to here, but it was really annoying to have my eyes swollen to half-mast again this morning. It seems like whatever it is that keeps setting me off is affecting me the most in the morning, and then easing up during the day. I'm wondering if that means that it is something that is close to my apartment, but not close to school. Fortunately, there is some respite from the allergies - Benadryl, the wonder drug. It took about an hour for it to open up my puffy eyes this morning, but I was grateful when it finally took affect.

In happier news, my weekend is going to be great. Three friends have birthdays this weekend, so we're all going to Busan to hit the beach and maybe some clubs as well. I'm also hoping to find time to stop at a bookstore that sells books written in English. I found a copy of Le Petit Prince (written in both English and Korean) when I was in Pohang, and I ordered a book on Amazon that just got here today, but they'll only tide me over for so long. I am craving things to read! I've already read and reread what I brought with me from the States, and I'm trying to ration out the two new books. I really miss the Kalamazoo public library and Barnes and Noble!

I recently discovered a show on television that teaches both English and Korean, so I've been trying to watch it each day (it's only a 15 minute show). My Korean is improving slowly but surely. Last night, my taxi driver even complimented my pronunciation. Victory! At last I am breaking through the bad accent barrier! It has been over three weeks since the last time I had a taxi driver call his English teacher to decipher my instructions.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In Which I Contribute to the Korean Tourism Industry

As I was preparing to leave following the afternoon classes today, Cate came to me with a rather unusual request. A woman needed a native English speaker to narrate a brief audio tour that her son had written for a historic site here. Cate wanted to help the woman, so she asked me if I would mind reading the script. Naturally, I said that it would be no trouble at all.

The script was only a page long, so it really wasn't much of an imposition. Of course, there were several Korean names and places that Cate had to teach me how to pronounce, but other than that, it was a very easy endeavor. I hate the way my voice sounds on the recording, but oh well. It was kind of fun to help out the local tourism industry. Afterwards, as I was heading out the door of the school, Cate called me back. Apparently, the grateful woman had left a gift for me. When I got home and unwrapped it, I was a bit mystified and quite amused. The woman had given me a huge box of Vitamin C!

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

I've decided that "Creature from the Black Lagoon" is the best description of what I look like today. Apparently, I am allergic to something. I'm not sure what it is that has set me off, but my eyes are horribly swollen today, my nose is red, and my sinuses are dreadful. Cate thinks it might be some of the pollen from the trees, which is of a different variety than what I'm used to in the USA. I think she may be right.

Aside from looking and feeling lousy, I'm actually having a pretty good week. The kids have been really good for the past two days, and the weather has been perfect (sunny and cool). One of my kindergartners gave me a random present today: a card she had made that said "I love you" in Hangeul and a bag of candy. It was such a sweet thing for her to do!

Gyeongju has gotten even prettier this week, now that hundreds and hundreds of red roses are in bloom. When I'm riding past all the flowers on my bike, the smell is so alluring it makes me want to just stop and breathe it all in for an hour or so.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Most Random, Fantastic Birthday Ever!

Considering that we technically spent three days celebrating my birthday, I'd say 24 got brought in in unbeatable fashion. I certainly wasn't expecting this much of a birthday weekend, expecially after the Everland idea got discarded. I was even a bit blue on Saturday morning, thinking about spending my birthday away from family. Then Lizzi called, and the randomness began...

Lizzi had the brilliant idea of going to Pohang, a city about 45 minutes from here, for massages. Since my neck has been murdering me all week, the idea held vast appeal. We met at about 3:30 in the afternoon and caught a bus out of Gyeongju. When we got into Pohang, it occurred to us that since neither of us had bothered to eat lunch, we should go get kimbap. We found fantastic kimbap (I love it when they put both ham and crab in it), which disappeared way too quickly. We then had a pleasant walk along the beach before coming to the massage place.

The massage was heavenly. We both got 60-minute full-body Thai massages, which left us feeling like melted butter. The guy who did my massage worked absolute magic - my back still feels fantastic! After our massages, we spent an hour soaking our feet in luxerous foot baths while sitting in front of a window overlooking the ocean and sipping lemongrass tea. When our foot bath time was up, we were served toast and coffee, which really hit the spot.

After we left the massage place, Lizzi and I took a leisurely stroll through Pohang's attractive downtown, window-shopping and chatting merrily. Since I had been craving some American food all week, we went to T.G.I. Fridays for dinner (yes, we have them in Korea). They are much more expensive here than at home, but it was worth it. The food was great, and the service, as always, was far better than one gets in the States.

From Fridays, we went to a party that one of Lizzi's friends was having on his rooftop. It was amazing to be around so many people speaking English! We had a great time meeting and talking with other foreigners. It was especially mind-boggling to see so many Americans (there are only three other Americans in my acquantance here in Gyeongju). We had so much fun that we lost track of time and missed the last bus back to Gyeongju. We killed a few more hours with some of our new friends, then took a taxi back (it came out cheaper than staying the night in Pohang). I finally got to bed at about 4:00 am!

On Sunday, my birthday, Lizzi and I met downtown for bing soo at Dark Black, my favorite place here. It's an awesome coffee/chocolate place with an Egyptian theme. Nina met us there after we finished, and the three of us went to Pizza Hut for my birthday dinner. That may not sound very nice, considering how lousy Pizza Hut is back in the USA, but our Pizza Hut here is actually really nice. We had a veggie and mushroom pizza with stuffed crust and fondue (so delicious my mouth is still watering). Then we went next door to the cinema to see the newest Narnia installment, Prince Caspian.

Following the movie, which we all enjoyed, Lizzi and Nina surprised me (and actually got me teary-eyed) by taking me to Baskin Robbins and buying me an ice cream cake. I picked a chocolate one that was to die for. We took it to a DVD bang, where the birthday girl selected The Water Horse as our next film (I've been wanting to see it for ages). The cake and the film were wonderful. When we came out of the DVD bang, we were shocked to discover that there was pouring rain outside.
Feeling like being silly, we went to the roof of a tall apartment building near mine, where we danced on the roof in the rain. After witnessing some impressive lightening, we opted to enjoy the rain from street level. We got completely soaked and came back to my place, where we put on dry clothes and warmed up with wine and another film. The birthday celebration finally ended at 3:30 in the morning today. I can safely say, I will never forget my twenty-fourth birthday!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pondering the Future

I thought I had pretty well mapped out what I wanted to do after Korea, but then two friends inadvertently planted new ideas in my mind. Then I did some research into the two new possibilities, and wound up adding another possible idea to the pile! Now I've got four possible routes to look into, all of which lead to different places. I'd prefer not to say just yet what I'm considering for my future (I don't want people influencing me), but all four ideas are very exciting, and all four mean staying overseas for at least a few more years. So at least I have made up my mind about one thing: I'm not moving back to the US anytime in the next few years.

I was convinced that Mother's Day or my upcoming birthday would make me homesick, but fortunately neither have. So, I've been here almost three months without even one day of being homesick. Impressive! Especially considering how desperately homesick I was when I first moved to Florida and Virginia - both of which are still within driving distance of Michigan. I don't know whether it's my love of Korea, my enjoyment of my job, or how busy I tend to be that keeps homesickness away. Certainly I am grateful not to be bogged down with longing for someplace I can't be.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Strawberry Picking

We took the kindies to a strawberry farm today, where we all picked loads and loads of strawberries. After that, it was off to a park for a picnic lunch (kimbap, of course). The kids ran around for awhile, shouting and having a marvelous time, and then we loaded them back into the bus and headed back to school. When I got ready to head home, Cate told me that one of the huge containers of strawberries we picked was for me. So, I now have more fresh strawberries than I know what to do with! No complaints, of course! I'm thinking I'll stick them in the blender with some of my other fruit and some juice and then freeze the result. That way I'll have some healthy, tasty popsicles to enjoy next week.

Some friends and I were originally planning to go to Everland (an amusement park) this weekend, but it isn't going to work out. So, it looks like Lizzi and I, and posibly Nina, will be heading off somewhere for a bit of sightseeing, and then maybe a nice dinner on Sunday to celebrate my birthday. Someone asked me how it felt to be turning 24, and to be honest, I didn't know what to answer. On one hand, I feel like I'm getting closer to 25 than I'd like to be, but on the other hand, I do have a sizeable amount of accomplishments to show for it. So, I guess I'm just happy, and looking forward to another year of life. It'll be interesting to see what country I'm in when birthday #25 comes along!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Teacher's Day

I definitely picked the right job! Teachers get their own special day here in Korea - May 15. We teachers were treated to gourmet cakes, fruit baskets, and other tasty delicacies. In addition, I got a lovely basket of flowers from one student, and a long-stemmed red rose from another. One little boy gave me a really neat key chain. I got cards from all of my older kindergartners. In short, I felt quite appreciated today.

I have to write about a conversation one of my friends recently had back in the USA. He was telling someone that he has a friend who is teaching in Korea, and she asked him if his friend found it hard living with no electricity! What's horrible is that that comment isn't unique! I heard dozens and dozens of similar ones before I left the US. I still can't get over how many people thought I was moving to a third world country. Or how many people asked if I was going to North or South Korea. Or how many people thought I wouldn't have access to the Internet for a year. I'm not sure whether it's prejudice against Asians, lack of education, or a scary combination of both. Either way, it's really sad.

On an unrelated note, I realized today that in just over a week, I will have been here for three months and my contract will be 1/4 of the way over. I confess, the thought saddened me. As excited and eager as I am about the opportunity to move on to the next country (although the process of getting my next visa is a headache I'm trying not to contemplate), I am going to have a very hard time when I get to my last day in Korea. This is truly one of the most beautiful, special places I have ever been. And as for the kids...all I can say is, they're the reason I wake up each morning smiling. I love 'em, even the monsters.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Things that Fly

One thing I am continually learning is that when you're a teacher, you can always count on the unexpected occurring. Today's first class brought this home to me once again.

Since my four little darlings were very hyper this morning, I knew getting them to sit still at the beginning was a lost cause. So instead, I decided to teach them the song, I'm Gonna Shake My Sillies Out. I actually only know the first verse of the song, so I just made up some new verses for it. The kids were having a great time ridding themselves of excess energy and I was mentally patting myself on the back as I created the fateful verse:

"I'm gonna kick, kick, kick my kickies out
Kick, kick, kick my kickies out,
Kick, kick, kick my kickies out,
Wiggle my waggles away"

On the last line of kicking the kickies out, I accidentally kicked off my shoe, which went sailing across the classroom and smacked the ceiling, before landing clear on the other side of the room. Needless to say, the kids thought this was the greatest thing they had ever seen! Naturally, they all wanted to copy me, so I had to deal with flying shoes for the next few minutes. With little kids, you do well to pick your battles, so I let each kid kick off both their shoes, and then restored order. Temporarily.

Just as I was successfully getting the kids involved in a sitting-down song, a large fly decided to join the class. Of course, the song was immediately forgotten as four little sets of eyes followed the movements of one very ugly black fly. Rather than compete with an insect for the rest of the hour, I told the kids to go catch it, and let them run about the room after it for a few minutes. Then, putting their textbook to good use, I gave the fly the opportunity to examine the cover at very close range. After picking up each child to let them see for themselves that their new classmate was, in fact, no longer living, I was able to resume teaching.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Buddha's Birthday (Monday, May 12)

Buddha's birthday is a national holiday here in Korea. Translation: no school! In honor of Buddha's birthday, paper lanterns adorned many walkways and all the temples, beginning a few days in advance. At night, the lanterns were lit up, which was even more gorgeous. At the temple across from my building, they set off fireworks on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday night. From my windows, I had a perfect view.

On Monday, Buddha's birthday, I went to Bulguksa temple with my friends Lizzi, Nina, and Won-Hyong. It was crowded and festive, with live music and colorful paper lanterns everywhere. We walked around for awhile, enjoying the sights. Then we headed off to a Korean buffet, where I enjoyed sea snail once again, as well as tasty miniature crabs (you eat them shell, pinchers, and all).

After lunch, we went to a DVD bang, which is where you select a DVD and then watch it in a private room on a huge movie screen. Basically, it is like having a miniature theater all to yourself. We watched "National Treasure," which we all enjoyed (although Lizzi and I took note of the historical errors). As we were leaving, three of the guys that we are friends with were coming in. They convinced us to join them for "The Heartbreak Kid."

During the second film, I developed a migraine, so I had to leave the group as soon as the movie was over. The blasted thing stayed with me until about three in the morning. I guess I shouldn't complain too much; I used to get three to five of them a week, and now I only get one or two each month. Migraine notwithstanding, it was a very enjoyable start to the week.

Jin-do (Monday, May 5)

To be honest, Jin-do was a bit of a letdown. While going to Jin-do was the point of the whole crazy, bus-filled trip, we all agreed that Jiri-san was really the best part.

For one thing, Jin-do was unbelievably crowded. Which, granted, should have occurred to us, since they were trying to set a Guinness world record, after all. Also, we had a hard time finding somewhere to eat, and finally had to settle for some overpriced noodles in a tent. It was very noisy, as may well be expected; in addition to the vast crowds, there was also a show going on with Korean drummers and a singer. As much as I love Korea and Koreans, I do not enjoy listening to Korean singers. At least not the ones I have heard so far.

After all our hours of traveling, we only spent about two and a half hours on Jin-do. When we first got to the beach area, we ate dinner in a tent (the previously mentioned over-priced noodles). Then we went to sit by a stage that had been set up, and watched the drummers and singer. Part of the show was unintentionally amusing - two really drunk guys apparently decided that this was their chance for stardom, so they ran up on stage and joined the dancers. Both drunk guys were in at least their seventies, so it was quite funny to see two old men dancing their hearts out, wobbly from too much alcohol.
Finally the low tide came, and the land bridge (the "mysterious sea road") appeared. We noticed that people were wearing brightly colored wading boots, which we assumed were necessary for crossing. So, we went off in search of the elusive boots. We soon learned an astonishing fact: while almost everyone was wearing the boots, no one knew where to purchase them. We walked for at least a few miles before decided we were on a fool's errand. To keep it from being a completely wasted walk, we bought ice cream cones. As soon as I tasted my pistachio ice cream, I decided that the long walk was worth it.

We walked back to the beach, and decided to cross the Aegean sea without waders. It was a little muddy, but basically solid land. When we had gotten less than halfway across, the tide came in. Soon water was almost to our knees, and we made a hasty retreat. Somehow we wound up in the middle of a parade. When we tried to get out of the parade, those in it beckoned us to stay. So, we smiled and proudly marched with a bunch of costumed men carrying tall flags.
After we finally left the parade, we wound up behind a reenactment of a Buddhist funeral procession, which was quite interesting to follow. Then, it was time to leave. Since thousands of people would be leaving the island, we made the wise decision not to wait for the last bus off the island. As it was, we barely made the second-to-last one.
We took a bus to Gwangju, which is a fascinating and thriving city. Considering how nice their bus station is, it was a shame that we didn't have time to check out the city. I plan to return sometime to explore Gwangju. In the bus station, which was more like an airport in layout, we searched desperately until we found a restaurant that was open. I had pork rib soup, which was delicious and spicy. After dinner, we managed to find a coffee and ice cream shop that was still open, so we got our dessert there. There, I had some fantastic kiwi frozen yogurt.
We took the midnight bus to Busan, getting in at about 3:00 am. Since the morning buses weren't running yet, we went to a PC bang at the bus station. A PC bang is a place where you can pay-as-you-go to use computers for games, Internet, etc. We surfed the Internet until 5:00 am, then bought our tickets for the 5:30 bus. We finally arrived back in Gyeongju at 6:30 Tuesday morning. Exhausted, I returned to my apartment, called home for the first time in awhile, and then went to work. Needless to say, I was quite tired for the entire day, and was delighted to sink into my bed (rather than a floor or a bus) that night.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jinju (Sunday, May 4)

By the time we got back to Jinju on Sunday, it was after 5:00 pm. We decided to go visit Jinju Fortress, a castle built in the sixteenth century, destroyed by the Japanese in 1593, and rebuilt around 1970. It overlooks the Nam River, and is a very interesting, attractive place to visit. Unfortunately, the rain picked up and got to be more than we cared to walk in.

We stopped by a Family Mart, where we bought cheap umbrellas that we planned to abandon after the rain ended. Then, being famished, we went searching for a restaurant. We were delighted to find a charming little Italian place, where I had the yummiest calzone of my life. It was a sweet potato one, and just thinking about it makes my mouth water. While we waited for our food to come, we munched on hot, fresh bread and sipped mint yogurt beverages. I must go back there someday!

After dinner, we searched for a jinjubang (bathhouse) to spend the night in. They are much cheaper than any other accommodations, and come with the added benefit of the relaxing baths and saunas. The one we chose was, however, the creepiest jinjubang in existence. The proprietor was an eerie old man who showed us around the women's area (which, we unhappily noted, lacked a locking door). The complimentary nightgowns were reminiscent of those found in an insane asylum. The sleeping area was up a rickety, narrow, barely lit staircase. The rooms up there were dimly lit and had an aura resembling that of a haunted house. Plus, there were three doors that clearly led to other parts of the building, which we were unable to open. We set barricades in front of all three. Then we played around with our cameras, taking creepy photos, before we settled down on the floor to sleep. According to Lizzi and Nina, I was out in under ten seconds.
The following morning, we enjoyed refreshing showers, followed by a relaxing soak in one of the baths. It was a very unique experience for me, using a bathhouse for the first time. Once I got over my self-consciousness, I enjoyed it. After we left the jinjubang, we met up with a Korean friend from Gyeongju, Won-Hyong. The four of us then set off on our way to Jin-do and the "mysterious sea road." See my next post for the pictures and story of our time on Jin-do.

Jiri-san National Park (Saturday, May 3)

Last weekend was exhausting. From Saturday morning until very early Tuesday morning, I rode twelve buses, took two taxis, hiked, swam, fell in a rocky river three times, slept on two hard floors, and walked until my feet were ready to mutiny. In other words, I had a great time.

The whole thing started a few weeks ago when my friend Nina learned about an island called Jin-do, which has a "mysterious sea road" that is only accessible at low tide. Apparently, one can then walk across the Aegean sea to a second, much smaller island. A festival was being held on Monday in which the island of Jin-do was attempting to set a new Guinness world record for the most people on a land bridge at one time. Lizzi and I agreed with Nina that it sounded like fun. Then I found out about Jiri-san, a national park on the way there, and a journey was born.

Our adventure commenced at 6:15 Saturday morning, when the three of us met up together at the Gyeongju bus station. We took a bus to Daegu, and then caught a bus from there to Jinju, a really neat little city in the western part of the southern province of Gyeongsangnam-do. Jinju is a very pretty, pleasant place that closely resembles Gyeonju in many ways. After a tasty breakfast at an adorable coffee shop, we caught another bus, this time to Daewon-sa, which is one of the easiest places to enter Jiri-san National Park from.
At Jiri-san, we originally planned to hike to the top of Cheonwang-bong, a mountain renowned for its sunrises, where we would then stay the night in a mountain hut. As soon as we spotted the river, however, our plans changed. Nina and I were seized with a passionate need to hike on the rocks in the river, so we decided to see how far we could go. Then we felt an even more passionate need to swim. So, I found a nice tall set of rocks to use as a changing room, and we changed into our suits. It was a hot, sunny day, so the cold water felt simply delicious. We had a marvelous time swimming, climbing, and exploring.

Afterwards, we changed back into our clothes at our "changing room." Lizzi had twisted her foot just prior to our swim, so she decided to go hike on dry land for awhile, where she felt a bit more secure in her footing. Nina and I opted to stay in the river, hiking on the rocks. It was then, fully clothed, that I managed to fall not once, but three times. I bruised my tailbone and upper right thigh, banged up both shins, scraped both hands and both knees, and turned my baby toe into hamburger. I figured another swim would be therapeutic, so Nina and I found another rock to change behind and went swimming again. Then we dressed and headed up the mountain to rejoin Lizzi, who had found a Buddhist temple to explore.

Nina and I were highly amused to discover a sign forbidding swimming once we had hiked for awhile. Oops! By the time we made it up to the temple, it had closed, and we were all rather hungry. We found the cutest scenic restaurant right on the river (we actually sat on a little deck overlooking it) and ate a tasty meal there. I had an octopus noodle soup that I enjoyed, despite the fact that I do not fancy octopus. After dinner, I purchased a box of ricecakes for us to enjoy once we got to our lodging for the night.

It was quite dark by this time, and I must confess, none of us relished the thought of hunting down a mountain hut in the dark. So we were ecstatic when the owner of the restaurant offered to drive us to a place to spend the night. He drove us to a pleasant, inexpensive place. It was traditional Korean, in that one sleeps on thin mats on the floor there. It was still a bit early for bed, so we sat outside by a small creek and played cards, while happily munching on the tastiest, softest ricecakes I have ever had. At around 10:30, we went to bed (or rather, to floor). I have to say, my bruised body had plenty of complaints about my choice of sleeping accommodation!

In the morning, we slept in quite late, being exhausted from our traveling and hiking the day before. After paying for the room, we hiked down to the restaurant and had brunch there (I had wonderful bibimbap - rice, various vegetables, sweet potato noodles, meat, and spicy pepper sauce mixed together). The restaurant owner was thrilled to see us again and gave us a pack of postcards. We played "rock, paper, scissors" (the ultimate method for decision-making) in order to fairly divide the postcards (the winner of each round got first choice of a postcard).

After browsing a little shop by the restaurant, we headed over to explore the Buddhist temple, which was beautiful. I love how colorful the temples and palaces are over here. The mountain scenery made the temple remarkably serene. It was truly a special, wonderful place.

After that, it was time to hike back down the mountain to the bus stop. On the way down, we met up with the restaurant owner again, and he insisted on driving us down the mountain. We thanked him profusely (Korean hospitality is amazing!), and purchased tickets back to Jinju. Unfortunately, the next bus was not for an hour, and the sun decided to yield to rain during that time. So, we sat under the cover of a tree for an hour, playing cards and munching on Korean ice cream treats. We got quite cold, but it was worth it. I have no recollection of the hour and a half ride back to Jinju, as I slept the entire way. I'm getting quite adept at falling asleep just about anywhere now. All in all, the three of us agree that Jiri-san was the best part of the entire weekend. In fact, Lizzi and I plan to return there with more friends in the fall, and actually make it to the top of the peak.
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"