Friday, November 6, 2009

Pondering my next journey..........

Brief forewarning, this post was started around 4:30 in the a.m., so if it's incoherent, blame the insomnia. If more than 80% of the words are spelled correctly I will consider it a success.....with that said, enjoy!

I'm sitting by the computer for something like the 4th time tonight as I've been hit a little by the insomnia bug and can't seem to drift off. See, U get a little anxious sometimes and lately I've been thinking "what am I doing with my life? what should I be doing with my life? what's after this?" While I'm coming up on my one year anniversary of being in South Korea and I'm signed on for another couple of months or so, I know that what I'm doing here isn't for me. I notice this even more as Winter and its dry air, is starting to creep into the picture. So anyways, let's look back at the question at hand and try and answer it as best as possible.

One thing that I will be grateful for about Korea is that it has made me realize how much I like Spanish, something I learned fairly early on here as I missed being able to converse or listen to Spanish anything. I get it, I'm a nerd for Spanish, and I'm cool with it. For me, sitting down with flashcards and memorizing words in Spanish has never felt like a chore because it's something I'm passionate about.

Ok, so we know I'm passionate about Spanish which is a good start. Since I have that passion for Spanish, it's always seemed like a good idea to teach Spanish and hopefully share that passion on to others, right? And this is right about where a 8,452 thoughts enter my mind and create a logjam (and yes that is an exact number).

Teaching Spanish to high school students was always my number one until the last couple of years. I always wanted to be like my high school Spanish teacher, but I feel like I would be discouraged teaching "me llamo (enter cheesy chosen Spanish name like Nacho or Chuy) y tengo 16 años". This leaves me with the idea that I'd like to teach at a higher level, to teach adults or university students and hope to be able to teach at a high enough level to hold a decent conversation. In order to teach at an post secondary level, community college or accredited 4 year university, I would at least need to go back and get a masters, if not a doctorate as well. Shall we delve into this some more? Lets.....

So now, I'm fairly certain that I want to go back to university to obtain a masters in Spanish Linguistics (Spanish nerd, I get it). I figure it will help me going forward to teach at a higher level and at worst, I could still teach at a high school level or do something else since it would just be an advanced degree of what I already have. Please note that the previous 2 sentences may sound like I'm confident in my decision, but I am wavering like a flag in strong wind. Anyways, the past 8 months or so, I've been looking at programs all over the U.S.A., some in Mexico but mostly concentrating on some programs in Arizona, Ohio State, and a few in Argentina,. Why not?

Recently, I had been seeing a girl in Korea, let's call her Carmen, who is a Mexican-American. Well, Carmen's contract had ended up just recently and she had wanted to go to Spain to study so we decided that we could meet up in Spain. Makes sense with me wanting to study Spanish and well she speaks Spanish, so yeah seemed like a no brainer. Well a couple of weeks into the distance thing, she being in Germany and me being in Korea, and we decided to break up. Another thing I've learned is that I suck at long distance relationships, which stems from my long standing hatred of talking on the phone.

With the end of the relationship, surely the Spain option has to be out the window, right? Not so fast. Stay with me baby birds (thanks Daniel Tosh). Ironically, I wasn't too keen on Spain in the first place, their accent isn't too ear-appealing to me, and from what I remember, the food wasn't the best, definitely not in my top 5 of cuisine across the world I would say. Both of which, I consider vital in choosing a place to live. But, after some research, Spain looks like it would be a great place to go to (which is what most people would think initially, but I'm weird). The pictures I've seen look amazing and it turns out that there could be some programs that would fit what I'm looking, so why not.

That right there threw a wrench in my plans as I was just getting to pick out universities and now I have a few more to choose from. Blah! I'm now thinking I'll definitely apply to ASU and have actually started the ball rolling with that, and that I'll apply to at least one school in Spain and possibly one in Argentina.

With that said, provided I get accepted to the programs I apply for, I still have no bearings on where I want to go. Part of me thinks Spain would be really cool and it would be an awesome opportunity, even if I do pick up a silly accent. But I get worried thinking about whether a degree from Spain will help me in the U.S., will it be recognized? Because in the long run I see myself living in the states. Plus, what if I get to Spain and am not really big on it, end up not liking ham even more than I don't already and don't want to be there? The good thing about Korea was that since my airfare was taken care of, the trip was kind of like playing with house money.

On the other hand there is the comfort blanket of A.S.U (Arizona State). With A.S.U I know what I'm getting into, maybe masters program I don't know, but living in Arizona is not new for me. I have a good network of friends, two potential soccer teams to play on, decent to good mexican food and no thoughts of snow. But would it be too easy? I also wonder if I would regret not going to Spain? Arizona will always be there, but how many opportunities do you get to spend a few years in Spain?

On one hand I feel like I've become a little cautious and reluctant to take another risk, to take on more changes. Is this what it feels like to grow up? On the other hand, I feel as if this could be one of my last big risks, that I should take advantage while I still can?

Basically, I could give reasons and doubts for choosing one over the other but eventually I'm going to have to make a decision. I know I'm not the only one my age who feels insecure about what they should do, and I won't be the last, but I thought I'd write to help clear my mind if for nothing else. Interestingly enough, halfway through writing this I thought I was starting to make some headway, only to coerce myself into thinking I was crazy and back into my realm of questions. Anyways, keep tuned as we (you and myself) have no clue of what's going to happen. I could be in Spain or in Latin America, or I could try and just get emergency licensure to become a teacher in high school. Or I could just come back to the U.S. of A and join one of the 10.3% of the nonworking class (sorry if that joke hits a little too close to home, but that's possibly me 6 months from now)............

And on that note, I think I'll wrap up my rambling as I just heard the wake-up alarm go off for the guy who lives next to me. Seriously, it's 6:15 in the a.m. and I'm contemplating life's path......I am awesome........

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lack of postings

So there have been no postings really as of late except one of a trip I took in August. I actually finished that post late Tuesday night, October the 13th, but it shows that it was posted on August 17th, which is when I originally started the post. That just shows how much time has elapsed since I have sat down to write. I am the gold standard blogging. Anyways, I will continue to be busy with life, grad school apps and trying to figure out what life has in store for me, so I can't make any promises, but I will try to make an effort to post more more. Please stay tuned.........

Monday, August 17, 2009

Weekend Getaway to Namhae (hey that rhymes!)

So as many of you may know, I was seeing a girl here in Korea since about the ides of March (I don't pay attention to history). After a short hiatus, we patched things right around the end of July and things have been great ever since. Well since soccer season is on a break, I thought it would be a good idea for the two of us to get out of Ulsan and take advantage of the summer weather. So together we picked out Namhae, which is an island (although really it's like a string of 4 islands) on the South coast of Korea.

So after a delayed start on Saturday morning, due to the fact that this guy still hasn't learned his lesson with soju, Carmen and I made it to the Ulsan bus terminal around 11:00 am Saturday morning. After a short trip to Busan, we came to the quick realization that we had to go to another city just to get a bus to Namhae. I still think we could have gotten a bus from a different bus station in Busan, but that still would've required a long trip on the subway so it wouldn't have been too different. So from Busan, we were on our way to Jinju only so we could catch another bus to Namhae.

From Jinju, we were able to get board a bus for Namhae in little time. Once we got to the island, we were both content with our selection. The island was very green, full of rice fields and tree covered mountains. It also had lots of nice coves and views of the sea, a very welcome change from the industrial city that is Ulsan. We arrived in Namhae somewhere around 5:00, which was a little disappointing as it had been such a beautiful day on Saturday, but our arrival was delayed by hangovers, indirect bus routes and highways packed with people fleeing the city for the weekend.

Having arrived at the bus station with nothing but some 3 paragraphs in the Lonely Planet book, we wandered around hoping to find some food and lodging. Since the directions in the L.P. were fairly vague (not the first time the Lonely Planet has failed me in Korea, probably won't be the last), we decided it would be best to head towards the beach we wanted to check out and hope there was lodging there. Wanting to take advantage of the nice day and sunshine, we passed on the bus ride and opted for the 20,000 won (16 dollar cab ride).

Shortly after we got to the beach we decided to get some food as we had spent most of the day on a bus with only eating some cookies. After passing tent after tent that were meant to serve as restaurants on the beach, we finally came to one that looked like it could fit the bill. So the two of us ordered doenjang jjigae, which is a stew that comes from soybean paste. Being on the beach, and in Korea, where things from the sea seem to find a way on your plate regardless, it was of little surprise to see some shrimp and mussels in there. We even had the pleasure of seeing spongebob's boss (the crab) look us in the eye as we digged in the bowl.

Refueled and ready to roll, we decided it was time to find a place to stow our things for the evening. We checked a couple of motels for rooms but they were all booked, and it was no surprise as this was during the busy travel month of August. The Sangjo beach area doesn't have many hotels anyways, and all the ones were all booked up. Soon people could see that we didn't have a place to stay and they began to approach us with staying in a Minbak. A minbak is apparently a guesthouse which is pretty tiny to be gin with, and they offer you a small room with nothing but some blankets on the floor. Pass. We kept on walking around after checking out a few Minbaks, utnil we finally came to one where the guy actually had a room with a bed to offer us. Paid the guy 20,000 won for the night (about $15.00) and done deal.

After resting up and putting our stuff down, we decided to walk around the beach area. Since it was such a nice evening, and there is literally nothing to do there, so we went out and got some bokbunja, or raspberry wine, our favorite drink in Korea, and jalapeño doritos and just chilled on the beach.

The following day we made a trip to the beach although Sunday was not nearly as nice of a day as Sunday was. Lots of clouds and practically no sun, but since we were at the beach we decided to take advantage. So we hopped into the water and it was a little chilly but not too bad. It would have been a lot better if it was sunny and hot outside, but we enjoyed going in regardless. After playing around in the beach for a bit, we decided to try out the banana boats that were setting off at the end of the beach.

Now, the only ever time I'd have ever been on a banana boat was in Mexico, where they had a proper boat pulling us. Here in Korea they use jet skis, so we didn't go nearly as fast as the one in Mexico. Also, in Mexico they took a sharp turn that forced us all into the water but here they took some turns here and there but nothing that forced us into the water. Carmen tried her hand in getting me into the water by tugging and pushing but to no avail. I wasn't going to be the only one in the water.

Coming in from a fun but dry banana boat ride, we went for a dip in the beach for a bit longer and then decided it was time to make the trip back to Ulsan. Since we there are no direct buses to Ulsan, we decided to get a bus back to Masan which is a city in between Namhae and Ulsan, and supposedly has an awesome authentic Mexican restaurant, a needle in the haystack of korean bbqs and soup restaurants. By late afternoon, we had jetted off from Sangjo beach and en route to Masan.

As mentioned before, our trip also coincided with the busiest travel month in Korea. And being in a beach town, many people from the city also shared our aspirations of jetting from the city and going to the beach for the weekend. What this led to was some of the busiest highways I'd ever been on. By Lonely Planet standards, a trip from Ulsan(approximately) to Namhae should take around 3 hours. More than 3 hours later and we were still at a standstill outside of Masan. Carmen's dream of getting good Mexican food was slowly fading away as we started to fear that we would get to Masan after it closes.

We eventually crawled into Masan sometime around 8 or so, and started to look around for this Mexican restaurant. We weren't given real clear directions on how to get there and Carmen was told that we would be able to get into a taxi and tell the driver "Mexican Restaurant" and the taxi driver would know the place. Fail. But, Carmen's desire was strong, so where there's a will there's a way. After asking for directions for a p.c. bang, or p.c. room, we got access to our good ol' trusty friend "internet" and were able to get a phone number for the place. Carmen called and was able to talk to the owner, a chilanga or person from Mexico City, who was able to help us with directions and get tell the taxi driver what to say.

Carmen's quest was near completion as were welcomed into a piece of Mexico in Korea. After Carmen chatted with the women for a bit and we wondered about what to order as there were so many options, options of foods that had only been in our dreams for the last several months. We decided to go about the menu with a group attack mentality, getting a couple of dishes each and then sharing. So out came the enchiladas, the tacos al pastor. And the tostadas, oh the tostadas. And how about some delicious agua de horchata to wash it down? Don't mind if I help myself to some of that horchata, and another glass for extra measure. After finishing round one, we decided to go all out and get some more tacos, and order some tamales for the road. By the time we were finished, we were both completely satisfied yet in stomach pain. We managed to rack up a 45,000 won dinner bill, maybe some 37.5 dollars. I guess that's not too bad for a dinner in the states, but by Korean standards, that's expensive, yet it was worth every penny.

With a content Carmen, we trekked over to the bus station to catch a bus back to Ulsan. Luckily for us, most of the travelers had made it to their destination at this point, so the night trip to Ulsan was a short one. Back to Ulsan to start the daily grind the very next day.......

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Something funny happened on the way to the stag party.....

After beign called out by a drunken buffoon about my lack of writing on the blog (just kidding B, I know you weren't too drunk, ha!), I figured it was time for me to sit down again and crank one out for you guys. This particular post is a short one but I like it regardless. It's not particularly insightful on Korea or anything like that but it does highlight the fact that it's the small things that make life and that sometimes the journey can be as much fun as the actual destination. Enjoy!

So a friend of mine from the football (soccer) team I play on is getting married in late August, so that means 2 things my friends, bridal showers and dress shopping....errr, I mean one thing, stag party!! As a group, we decided to head to some place called Geoje, some small city which has to be better than Ulsan by default.

Saturday afternoon rolls around and I lazily walk to the meeting spot to cram into a 9 person van with 6 other guys from the team. Most of the people got there on Friday but the rest of us get out late in the evening on Fridays so it made more sense to leave on Saturday. So we roll out on our 4-5 hour trek somewhere around 1:00 and everything seems to be going well.

At one point we stop for at a truck stop for a bathroom break, get some snacks and stretch out. My friend Donal and I step inside and come across one of those once in a lifetime decisions, you know the ones where you make a bold move which could be seen as a heroic move or a complete utter move? Yeah, one of those moves. So there we are in the truck stop, looking at the vast cds and cassettes (yes they still sell them somewhere) where our eyes come across the only western one, and quite frankly the only one we recognized. ABBA Gold, on cassette!! Now, the decision was a tough one, as the cassette costed 5,000 won, or about 4 dollars. After looking at each other we knew there was no option, no guts no glory!

With our split purchase in our hand, we walked back into the van with grinning and giggling like school girls. The moment JK started the van, we popped in the tape, anxiously waiting the response or boos. The first song that came on, to no surprise, was "Dancing Queen". Within seconds, all seven of us were singing along to the song, quite a feat considering that there were two koreans in the van, one who hadn't said a word in English in the 3 hours up to that point. The sound wasn't great, but oh what a sight, 7 grown men singing "Dancing Queen". We listened to the rest of the tape, but I don't think anything could've topped the initial rendition of "Dancing Queen".

Now the rest of the weekend was good, had some good laughs, blah blah blah, but I know that the ABBA experience will always stay with me. Like I said before, sometimes it's those small moments that make a good time great, a great night an excellent, etc. And really, that's what it's all about..................

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Who needs a bunch of mud anyway, right?

Well let me start with my token apology about being a poor blogger, been busy but been really lazy as well. What can you do? Anyways, last weekend, the 11th and 12th of July, was the kickoff to a weeklong fest appropriately named "Mudfest" in Boryeong, a coastal city on the west coast of Korea. They apparently ship in some mud which is supposed to be healthy (although some people reported that they had a bad reaction to the mud) and have it on the beach, and people spend the weekend on the beach, in the mud and get drunk all weekend. The event is pretty big amongst the foreigner community, and something like 90% of the people that attend are foreigners.

I was unable to attend but to be honest I wasn't sure if I wanted to go as it seemed like a spring break type event, but at the same time I wanted to see what it was like because it was so hyped up. No mudfest, but fun was still to be had in Ulsan, right? So Saturday evening I met up with my good friends Mal and Lu, the dog they were dogsitting (her owner was at mudfest surprise, surprise) at one of the beaches here in Ulsan. I started off the evening by passing by a cart on the boardwalk area of the beach that sold Italian treats and sangria. Sangria, in Korea, who would've thought you would be able to sangria here? So I picked up some cups for Mal, Lu and I. The verdict, better than I thought it would've been and the couple that served it to me was super nice and seemed super cool, so definitely a plus and a recommendation if you find yourself on Ilsan Beach in Ulsan.

From there, we met up with our Korean friend Martin and headed to a hof (beerhouse, they took the name from the German word) for some beers and fried bar food. Since it was raining and it seemed like there was no end in sight, we decided to head to a restaurant and get some proper food. With Martin being our master of Korean culture and making sure that we get as much as possible, he took us to try a new Korean food, 족 발 (jok bal) or pig's leg. Just think of them taking a piggy's leg and then slicing the leg into slices that look like silver dollar pancakes. Presented in a big pile with some bones and a knee cap in there, and you're good to go. And just like a lot of Korean cuisine, it was served with doenjang (soy bean paste), garlic, and leaves to wrap the meat up and eat like tacos! The jok bal was pretty good, very fatty and wasn't my overall favorite Korean meal, but definitely worth trying.

After our meal and one doggie wee incident in the entrance of the restaurant, the 5 of us (including our canine friend), got into a taxi and head across town to where Mal and Lu live. We then went to a bar to continue our festivities, but unfortunately the bar had other plans by serving us some of the weakest drinks I had ever drank in my life. Congratulations Wa Bar for actually making people sober up in a bar, well played. Weak drinks aside, it was a good time as our friend Mike was able to meet up with us there as we were just able to enjoy some good company.

The next day I woke up for a soccer game which we ended up forfeiting after a nasty injury decimated our squad of 9 people down to 8 (normal squads have 11 plus substitutes. Another casualty of mudfest). While I was unhappy that we lost, I was content that I got to go home and get some much needed rest.

Later on that day, I met up with my friend JK at Munsu Soccer Stadium (a site for the 2002 World Cup) to watch the Ulsan Hyundai Tigers take on FC Daegu in a K-League match up. It was pretty cool because we sat with the comissioner of the Korean Amateur Soccer League, which was probably more exciting for JK as I couldn't really have a conversation with them due to the language barrier. Still, I think it was good for them to see a foreigner that was interested in the local football team.

From there, the comissioner dropped me off near my home so I could get some dinner and cap off the weekend. All in all it was a good weekend, despite missing out on the most talked about party in Korea........

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Big Guy's Birthday

The Big Guy, the big, fat, bald one that is, had a birthday in the beginning of May. That's right, I'm talking about Buddha! The following are the tales of my weekend celebrating his birth with soccer, lanterns and merriment.

For those of you that aren't in the know, 25% of the Korean population claims to be Buddhist, thus making it one of the main religions of Korea. Consequently, 25% of the population claims to be Christian as well. But much like Christian Holidays, Buddha's Birthday is celebrated by everyone, regardless of their beliefs. What that means is everyoen heads to the temples, but I'm getting ahead of myself so let's start from the beginning........

So after a morning Saturday practice on May 2, I rushed back to my home to take a quick shower and pack my school bag with all the necessities for a one day trip. I refueled with some quick little snacks at the local grocery store and then went over to the Ulsan Bus Station.

Seeing as how Ulsan isn't exactly the hub of Korean Culture nor Buddhism, I decided to take a trip to Busan and check out some temples there. One of the best things about living in Ulsan is that Busan, Korea's 2nd biggest city, is a 40 minute bus ride away, making it perfect for weekend trips. Another good point is due to the clsoe proximity to Busan, buses leaving for Busan from Ulsan leave every 7 minutes. I was literally en route to Busan within 5 minutes of getting to the station. A-SSSAAAHHH!!!

As previously noted, it took me maybe 40 minutes to get to Busan. From the bus station I was able to navigate the subway to find the station I needed to get to my destination, Samgwansa Temple, a modern temple located inthe heart of the metropolis. While looking at the subway map, I realize that Beomeosa Station, the stop which leads to Beomeosa Temple, is one stop over from the bus station and is still on the way to my final destination. 왜 안돼 (way- an dway), or "why not?" Hooray for sponteanity!

After getting off the subway, I decided to follow the signs pointing to the temple and walk the 3 kilometers to the temple as opposed to taking the bus. I came to this decision as I figured I would not be able to figure out Lonely Planet's directions, only to find the bus station that services the temple by accident. A-SSAH! So I paid the 1,000 won (about .75 U.S.) fare and crammed into the bus full of people itching to taste some of that sweet, sweet Buddha B-Day cake.

So for the first kilometer, everything was going well, we were moving fine along fine, and then boom, we hit the traffic of half the city of Busan in this hill. Finally, after some minutes of waiting there, these older Korean ladies got the same idea that I had, which was to get off and walk it and get there in half the time. I took advantage of their abilities to ask the driver to let them off and got off as well and continued my trek to see the birthday boy. On my trek, not only did I pass the bus that left the station prior to the bus that I was on, but I past 2 other buses, which is to say the 3 buses that left before my bus had left.

Considering the amount of cars waiting to arrive to the temple, it was no surprise that the temple was crammed even from the bottom gate. The steps leading up to the temple were adorned with paper lamps in the shades of green, red, yellow and blue. Totally Asian and totally cool.

So I walked around a bit, took some pictures of the pagoda and the all the lanterns. One thing about Beomeosa is that it is supposed to be one of the most famous temples of Busan. While the actual temple itself didn't seem to impress, the surroundings were pretty cool as there were lush green mountain/hilltops in the background. The lonely planet book noted how you almost forget that you're in a city of a couple million people which I could see, minus the whole fact that half of those couple of million people were at the same temple as me.

I continued to meander around the temple and saw some more prayer halls but was unable to get close as there was some type of ceremony going on. Beatened down by the vast amount of people at the park, I decided to take a few more pictures of the pagoda and go on my way.

From Beomeosa, I took the subway to Samgwansa Temple. I had gone to Samgwansa with Mal, Lu and Mike in my first trip to Busan and remembered them having tons of poles meant for the lanterns. Surely, they would have a great set up for festivities, i thought.

Samgwansa is totally different from Beomeosa. Samgwansa is right off of semi-main street where as Beomeosa is a bit more hidden in the mountains and forest. Beomeosa is an odler temple while Samgwansa is a newer temple. With that said, don't let Samgwansa's youthful age (I believe it was built in the 80's, of the 20th century) fool you about it's importance. Apparently, or so a woman told Mal on our last visit, Samgwansa is the hub of a certain sect of Buddhism for a large part of Korea, making it a rather important temple.

Walking up to the temple gate, as the taxi couldn't take me to the temple gate due to the people traffic, you could see all the people selling traditional buddhist garb and everything buddhist. As I got closer to the temple, the items became more frivolous and irrelevant to the actual celebration. Starting with some slushees then moving to random t-shirts and finishing with street vendors selling q-tips and band-aids. Really? Not sure what that was all about, but it just goes to show that nothing is sacred anymore, not Christmas, not Buddha's Birthday and definitely not Presidents Day......err, well forget the last one.

As predicted, the decorations at Samgwansa was quite impressive. There were large dragons and a roof of lanterns covering the grounds of the temple. I meandered through the masses of people and tried my best to capture the moment without offending the religious attending. With that said, a lot of the decorations were similar to those of Beomeosa so I did not stay there too long.

Finished with Samgwansa, I went back to Haeundae to meet up with a my former coworker and his girlfriend. From there we went to his new apartment and started up the night with some Andong Soju, which is 40% alcohol. We then packed up some homemade soju fruit juice cocktails and went over to the Busan sports complex to watch the Ulsan Hyundai Tigers, the professional soccer team of Ulsan, face off against Busan L'Park.

Being my first in-person professional event in Korea, the differences between Korean and American sporting events were clear even before I entered the stadium. For one, the most expensive ticket was 8,000 won, or approximately 6 dollars. Not even for MLS games in America are tickets that cheap. Furthermore, there were few people at the stadium, definitely under 5,000, which is shocking because soccer is most definitely in the top 3 in the world of Korean sport.

After getting past the shock of the prices and lack of attendance, it then hit me that we totally walked in with quart size jugs of homemade soju cocktail. Not only did they not detain us for the alcohol but they also sold cans of beer, at ridiculously reasonable prices. It's almost as if they encourage you to get drunk at the games. They obviously haven't had many people from Cleveland attend their sporting events here. Now back in the states, I usually like to have a beer in one hand with some nachos in the other and enjoy a good contest. Korea does things a little differently, with packages of dried squid or ramyeon (the Korean pronunciation of ramen). It's actually quite a sight to see a giant thermos of hot water next to the snack stand so you can prepare you ramyeon.

Well, my mood was lightened with a 2-1 win for the visiting Ulsan Club and by my soju cocktail. The celebrations continued as the 3 of us went to the Haeundae Beach area where we hit up several bars. At that point everything pretty much got blurry and basically all I remember was getting some gimchi jjigae (gimchi stew) before heading back to my friends place where I would crash on his floor.

The next day came early, as I had set my alarm for 10 till 9 so I could get back to Ulsan to catch the soccer bus to take us to our match in Daegu. With my stomach feeling like it had just been on the scrambler ride at an amusement park, I snuck out of my friends apartment and navigated my way back to the bus station to catch the bus back to Ulsan. Ah, this is the life I lead...........

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Oh, Korea....

I was originally going to write a post about why I suck at being a blogger, but to be honest I just couldn't be bothered. Look, I get busy at times, and others I get distracted and don't get around to doing the blog. What can you do? So instead of lyign to myself and saying that I will write that post, I've decided to write about some interesting little stories that have occurred here in Korea.

Just a typical Saturday morning, I stopped in MacDonalds and got some breakfast before heading off to soccer practice. As I climbed into the taxi, I heard two words that I hadn't heard in a while, "Good Morning". For the most part, the cab drivers here are reluctant to start up a convo with me, or most foreigners, mostly for the communication barrier but I just so happened to stumble across one that could speak some English, and wanted to have a Saturday morning chat.

We start chatting about the typical stuff, why I'm in Korea, what's teaching like, etc. Then, the driver asks me if I like pop. At first I didn't quite understand what he was saying,I thought he was saying "Park", but then he explained by saying "Beatles? do you like pop?"

Ohhhhhhh, pop music, I think to myself. "Yeah, I like the Beatles. I like pop". So the driver puts in his cd and we start rocking out to some Beatles. And by rocking out, I mean him and I singing "Let It Be" together. Dare I say the most awesome version of "Let It Be"? Korean taxi driver and his Korean accent with my out of tune singing which is heightened at 8:45 in the morning. Brilliant!

Now the story would be good if it ended there, but unfortunately, my newly found friend dared for something greater. "Simon and Garfunkel, do you like?" he asked me. Why yes, yes I do. So after destroying some Beatles, we made our own rendition of "Bridge Over Troubled Water", a version just as awesome as our Beatles cover.

After the Simon and Garfunkel, we arrived at my destination so the merriment came to a tearful end. I will say that I don't think I've ever been in such a cheerful mood after stepping out of a taxi, so well played Korean taxi driver. These are the moments that make my experience in Korea. This is my life.......

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Busan Trip

Continuing with my trend of being really behind on the blog, I am going to write about a trip to Busan that occurred in the middle of March.

So for my friend Lu's Birthday, we decided to take a little weekend trip to Busan, Korea's second biggest city and also a 30-40 minute ride from Ulsan. We being, Mal and Lu, and Mike, the Canadian engineer. We get to Haeundae, a district in Busan, shortly before noon. From there we go in search for our accommodation for the evening, to the love motels!!!

In Korea, they have motels that are called "love motels" which are motels basically built for their name. How can one tell? Good question. Let's see they have little curtains in their entrance so people can't see who is getting in and out of the cars and they have condoms in the rooms. They are cheaper than hotels and usually are pretty comfortable and not as sleezy as one would think with their name. Keep in mind, I think the moniker "love motel" comes from foreigners and the koreans just differentiate by calling them "hotels" and "motels".

After searching around and checking out a handful of different motels, we finally came to agree on one that had a room with two beds so Mike and I could split the cost without partaking in the love. We drop our stuff in the hotel and then go wandering about Haeundae.

The motel that we checked into, and all the motels we checked out, were all a 5 minute walk to Haeundae Beach, so after Mike and Mal got some Starbucks, we headed off to the beach. Lu and I were both excited to be on the beach so we promptly took off our shoes and walked around barefoot. Soon, we were taking the token "jumping picture" right on the edge of water. On a sidenote, Haeundae beach is Korea's most popular beach and is one of the top 8 sceneries of Korea. It definitely did not disappoint, although let's keep in mind that it's not Thailand, Hawaii, the Caribbean, etc.

After trying in vain to get the sand off of us, we decided it was time to get some lunch, b.b.q style. From there we headed on over to the Busan Metro and with the help of the Lonely Planet Guidebook, we just picked some area and went on our way. After getting to our unplanned destination, we stumbled across a decent sized book sotre. Now, I'm always keen to checking out bookstores because I'm always on the hunt for expanding my Spanish library here in Korea and surprisingly, there isn't a lot of Spanish materials here. Basically, anytime I'm in Seoul or Busan, the two largest cities, any bookstore of significant size is considered a must stop for me. Sure enough, they did have some books, mostly reference books, but I was able to find a book about Modern Spanish History for 7 bucks, AHH-SSSAH!!!

Upon exiting the bookstore we notice a little waffle stand in the street. This day just keeps getting better and better! Now, we have just eaten a short time ago but I am never one to back down from eating more. The waffle did not dissapoint as I picked the waffle with blueberry ice cream, ass-aah!

After getting my waffle fix, we moved on and were able to find an open air market. This wasn't the first market I had been to in Korea, as a matter of fact, I walk by one pretty much on a daily basis, but this had to be the best one I had seen so far. They had everything from your everyday fruits and vegetables, to the more exciting random parts of pig and dried stingray. Seeing how we didn't really need any of the forementioned items, we decided to move forward and consult some local maps to try and find somewhere else to visit. To the temples!!

We arrived to some temple whose name wasn't important to remember, and kicked it around there for a bit. A lot of the same from what I've seen in Korea with some minor changes. For one it had a really cool pagoda where people were walking around it and then doing prayers. Around the pagoda they had some wall with these really cool images, like some monkey, tiger and dragon soldiers, the stuff you'd expect to see in Asia. It was kind of difficult to take pictures of the whole temple because they had all these gray poles going up to hold these lanterns for when they hold Buddha's Birthday, which is coming up in May. Hands down, the best part of the temple is that right next to the temple they have an atm. I can just imagine the monks passing around the collection basket during a service and someone running to the cash machine to take out some money........

As mentioned, the temple wasn't really anything new so we moved on and headed back to the motel. Lu and Mal have a friend who is living in Hong Kong that was going to meet up with us so we decided to kill some time by picking up some soju and starting the party in the motel. Hooray for soju and pineapple fanta!

So Vic, the friend from Hong Kong showed up, so we went out to one of the university districts in Busan to celebrate Lu's existence. We first went to a hof (pronounced ho-peh) which comes from German, and had some beers and some fried appetizers as a snack. From there, we went to a foreigner bar to keep the festivities going. On a total random note, we ran into some friends from Ulsan at this bar, who just so happened to be celebating one of the girls' b-days as well. After everyoen got their fill of liquid fun and Madonna, we went back to the motel to get some much needed sleep.

The next day we wake up fairly early as Mal, Lu and Mike had booked a scuba dive with sharks at the Busan Aquarium. I, being the procastinator that I am, never got around to booking mine, so after seeing them off i decided to kick it in Haeundae for a bit. After strolling the beach for a 2nd time, I came across a map that showed some park on the other side of the beach and off I went. The park was a good walk and it was really a nice day to be out and about. They had some wallkways where you coudl take pictures of yourself with this famous bridge in the background. Another highlight of this park is that it has the APEC building from the 2005 APEC conference held in Busan (APEC stands for Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation, or something along those lines). The building itself is pretty cool because it's all futuristic looking, kind of like something you would see at Epcot Center. Then I got to enter the building where I was promptly greeted by a robot, awesome! From there I got to see the boardroom and where all the countries sat.

From there soem time had passed and I thought maybe the three musketeers might be close to being done but Lu called to confirm that they would be in the second group of swimmers so I still had some time. With my handy dandy map I saw there was some park with some waterfalls, a hiking trail and some temples. Why not? So I got in the first taxi and was off in search of some waterfalls. I hiked for a bit and saw a running stream but no waterfall. Hiked a little more and saw the temple. A little further and saw a waterfall but not a very big one, definitely not something worth putting on a tourist map. So I decide to continue walking and see if I come across a waterfall that was worth stopping for.

Now, when I was planning this trek I thought it was going to be a simple breeze in the park, maybe a 1 km walk to the waterfall and 1 km back, nothing too grand. Now I'm walking hiking up this hill and I begin to realize that a. I am the only non-korean on the mountain and b. that I'm the only one not decked out in North Face gear or Korean imitation North Face. As a matter of fact, I was pretty much in my clothes that I had worn the night before, i.e. jeans, t-shirt and tennis shoes. So I continue hiking and come across a slight clearing in the trees where you can see all of Haeundae. The sky rise apartments, the ocean, everything. I think hey this is a pretty awesome view but what would it be like from the top and besides I wasn't really in the mood for stopping yet.

So I continue my hike and must have gone close to 4 km (from the beginning of the park) and still haven't gotten to a peak or even a better clearing. Uggh! To top things, I hadn't planned to go for an extensive hike which means I didn't have any water, hadn't eaten anything since the night before. Not one of the best ideas. But I was feeling fine so I continue hiking and it appears that I am getting closer to the top of the peak and will complete my mission. Nope, I was dead wrong as I wasn't even close to any kind of clearing and the frustration kept building up. I will note though that the highlight of this point was that I was walking by an old mine field, or so the fence and barbed wire fence indicated.

My frustration gets the best of me and I decide that it's not going to happen, I'm not going to see the top and I really don't want to be stranded on a mountain due to dehydration/exhaustion, etc. I pack it in and start heading back only to get to a clearing I had passed on the way up. At this clearing they had a sign that said I was 1.4 km from the top of the peak. Now I think to myself that I definitely hiked close to 1.4 from this clearing before and that it really isn't too much to hike, less than a mile, so it was definitely do-able. Move over frustration, determination is coming through. But, I wasn't going to be able to do the trek alone, I would need nourishment. So i stopped by the only food vendor in sight, (there were actually restaurants on the hill/mountain, but they were a little bit of a hike away) which was some guy selling melon flavored popsicles on the side of the trail. Ok, maybe not the first choice of most hikers but my body could probably use the sugar at the point.

I've got my popsicle and my determination so it's to the top or bust. So I continue my hike but this time take a different trail to see if it will maybe take me to the top. I continue on and go what feels like a km and the peak is not in sight, not good. I continue on and on until I finally get to a clearing which has some rocks and enough of a clearing where you can see all of Haeundae. Ok, not the ultimate goal but it wasn't going to have to do, much like a tie in a sporting event. I sit down for a bit, have some korean take a picture of me and then decide to pack it in and head down the trail.

As I descended I came across one of the small outdoor restaurant/food stands and think to myself that I might as well, get some protein/carbs in me. So after taking a look at the menu I see a plate called 김치 두부 (or kimchi dubu- kimchi tofu). Now in my tired, semi hungover and dehydrated state, I thought it was going to be kimchi dubu jjigae, which is a stew with all of the forementioned ingredients, something I've eaten before and know that I like it. Well, you can imagine my surprise when the waiter brings me out a plate of about 12 2x2x1 (in inches) blocks of tofu topped with kimchi. Being in Korea, I've developed a little bit of thing for tofu, especially when prepared well, same goes for kimchi, but the two of them in mass quantities......? And the kimchi wasn't even good...ick. So I forced myself to eat as much as I could thinking to myself that my body could use the protein and vitamins, leaving at least half of the plate for the staff to clear.

I finally got to the bottom of the hill and walked aways until I was able to hail a cab back to the motel/aquarium area. Coincidently, right aboutthe time when I was getting back to the aquarium, Mal, Lu and Mike had just finished with their dive. After meeting up we headed back to Mal and Lu's room as Mike and I had already checked out, and just lounged around for a bit. After taking our much needed break, we took a walk down to this building right across from Haeundae Beach to get some Indian for Lu's B-Day dinner. And from there, Mike and I packed into the car and came back to Ulsan, thus concluding our trip to Busan.......

Monday, March 16, 2009

Seoul, take 3

The next day was our last day to be in Seoul so Mal and Lu were thinking of doing some shopping while Alick was thinking of doing some walking tours. Since Alick was thinking of covering some areas that I had already seen and there was a book market I wanted to check out, so I decided to go with Mal and Lu, as said book market is near the clothes markets they were going to. So we looked at some of the outdoor markets which were pretty cool, with their "adidas" hoody sweatshirts and tracksuits for $10 and all the shoes that probably don't fit me for $10 as well. After looking around, Mal and Lu head into the stores we were at a couple days ago and I go heading off to the used book markets.

After some investigation at the tourist center, I was able to find the book market which was just the side of one street with these tiny closets packed with books with no rhyme or reason. To give a little background information, my main reason for going to the book market was to find something in Spanish because I had already read most of the materials I brought with me and if there is a place that will have a book in Spanish it would be Seoul, right? Another side note, this is a used book market, so it's really like going down a street with churches or libraries doing a book sale. I looked in various ones and saw some of the most random stuff, some books in French, German and English, dictionaries from korean to almost any language, and then some. After a diligent search, I found a Spanish text book and a religious book from Nicaragua and bought them along with an English-Korean/Korean-English dictionary.

Having spent my last won (I only had like $12 on me), I decided it was time to meet up with Mal and Lu. We started our trek back to InsaDong and decided to do the scenic route by walking along this stream that is in the middle of the city. I don't remember the name of this stream but I think it's pretty famous because I've seen it in a couple of k-pop videos. From there, we take some pictures, I make a fool of myself and draw more attention to ourselves, and all in all we have a good time.

Getting back to Insa-Dong in the middle afternoon, we decided to make a dash to this dumpling restaurant. Now we could get dumplings in Ulsan, but this restaurant had something we hadn't seen before, pizza dumplings. We passed by this place on Saturday and talked about going there everyday but just never got around to it, so the build-up for these dumplings was quite big. When we finally get there on Tuesday, we first find out that they don't have the pizza dumplings. What a crushing blow that was! Then the ones we got were good, but it wasn't anything spectacular and definitely not worth the 4 day build-up. Lame!

So we're still in Insa-Dong and we have some time to kill before we were going to try and meet up with Alick so we decide to go to another teahouse. This time though, Mal seemed intent on getting us to a teahouse with actual finches (like the bird) in it. After a couple of bad turns here and there, we finally find the magical finch tea house, which did not disappoint. The actual atmosphere of the teahouse was a lot better than the first one went we to. The previous one was pretty modern but kind of plain, where as this one had all sorts of funky korean decorations and trinkets all over the place. Way cool. Plus, it did have actual live finches flying around in the place, how cool is that? So there we were, sitting on the floor, sipping our tea while finches were flying around us. The actual tea wasn't that good but I think that was due to a poor personal selection more so than them having bad tea. Lu enjoyed hers very much, so it wasn't all bad. On a sidenote, each of these places had probably 15 different flavors of tea so it's quite feasible to get one that may have a different taste, one that you might not enjoy.

We finished our tea, collected our things and then met up with Alick to grab some dinner. From there, Mal, Lu and I booked it to the Metro station to get to the train station on time. In full out rush mode, I go through the first turnstile without much thought, only to realize 1.4 seconds later that I was on the wrong side of the metro. Sugar! Of course, it was just my luck that it was the only metro station that didn't have access to both sides of the metro, which took me a couple of minutes or so to figure out. I finally came to my senses and bit the bullet, exiting the one side of the metro and paying the $1.00 for a new ticket.

I get on the next train and speak with Mal and Lu, who at this point are at the train station to go to Ulsan, and everything was fine, I was 2 stops over and had some 20 minutes to spare or so. Then, with 2 stops to go, the train shuts it down for a bit. They were having some malfunction as the light in one of the cars went out and they said something over the loud speaker, which of course was in Korean so I didn't know what was going down. Now, I'm back into panicking. Please start up, please start up. Time is going by and I'm sitting there thinking to myself, one more minute and I am getting off here to get a taxi. After what seemed like an eternity, the lights finally came back on and we were on our way. In an anti-climatic fashion, I book it to the train station and meet up with Mal and Lu with some time to spare. From there, it was just a 5 hour train ride back to Ulsan, only to have to work the next day......

Sunday, March 15, 2009

After much anticipation

Ok, so some 2 months later, 3 trips to noraebang, 1 league soccer game and about 13 pounds of Korean B.B.Q. later, I am finally getting down to writing the second half of the Seoul Trip. I am awesome.........

Picking up where we left off, Mal, Lu and I whad just finished our excursion to N. Seoul Tower and were on our way back to the guest house. Alick arrived to the guest house while we were out and about, so we had a short break and then moved on for dinner in Insa Dong.

With a couple of friends in town and kicking it in Itaewon, a district in Seoul, we decided to meet up with them there after dinner. Itaewon is known for being the foreigner district in Seoul which became evident as soon as we left the metro station. Literally, the area looked like a western area that had a few Korean restaurants/establisments in it. We saw restaurants that can't be found in Ulsan, like a Saudi Arabian restaurant, French cuisine, various American chains that aren't in Ulsan, some that are in Ulsan, and even Cold Stone Creamery.

After getting over the initial culture shock of being in our respective countries again, we catch up with our friends in Gecko Terrace and Bar. The Gecko furthered the attempt to make us feel at home by carding us to get into the bar. Seriously, what countries i.d. apart from the U.S. and maybe Canada and England? Another note about the place was that apart from the staff, all who could speak perfect English, I could count the Koreans that were in the bar on my two hands. This is saying a lot for a relatively large bar which was so packed that we literally had to pounce on the first chair that became available. So we imbibe some beers there, and decide to move on the next bar after the Gecko. There's not much to be said about the second bar because I was pretty much gone at this point, but I will point out that a few of my friends decided to get in on a poker game with what seemed like some of the sketchiest people in Korea. I swear there were at least 4 potential bond villains in there, or so it appeared in my impaired vision. That, my friends, is Itaewon....

Despite planning on starting day 3 at an earlier time, we pull ourselves out of bed soemwhere around midday, wah-wah. All right, half the day is complete, we need to cram some culture for the rest of the time. So we show Alick around Insa-Dong and it's main cultural street, get to this park, Tapgol park, just by chance and then finally get to our main site for the day, Changgyeongung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine.

We first walked around a park that surrounds Changgyeongung, which was literally a trail and a manmade lake. We also stopped in the "botanical garden" at the park, or as we call it in the U.S., a "greenhouse". There are florists in my neighborhood that have a more impressive selection of plants than this so called botanical garden. So Shortster, if you're reading this, you'll be happy to know that the DBG is still the most impressive botanical garden I've seen. The actual palace part of Changgyeongung was ok, more of the same from the day before (Gyeongbokgung), but not nearly as impressive. The best part of the palace was seeing handfuls of Korean children in 한복 (han-bok), which is the traditional garb. We also saw these Korean playing these carnival type games like kicking up some hankerchief type thing, throwing some sticks in some game and many more. Alick and I tried our foot at the kick-up game but we were nowhere near as good as the Koreans.

We finish with the palace and move onto the shrine across the street. We get into the park, get up close to the shrine only to be completely unimpressed. It definitely was not as cool as the previous palace, which wasn't as cool as the palace from the day before. Moving forward, we decide to get out of there and head towards the downtown area and maybe see some government buildings.

We get off at the metro station with the hopes that we might see some of the municipal buildings but the first thing we see when we get on ground level is an outdoor ice rink. Yes, Yes and Yes! To backtrack this a bit, Lu Mal and I had talked about how cool it would be to good ice skating but it seemed very unlikely. Who would've guessed that it would actually happen, right? So after waiting some 20 minutes for them to resurface the ice, we got to hit the ice, and it was awesome! I was in 7th heaven and there is photographic proof of me jumping up and down with the thought of ice skating. Unfortunately, I couldn't express my satisfaction with the ice skating after the fact because my knees were so sore, but it was worth it regardless.

With ice skating finished we were looking at dinner time, so we decided to make a break for Itaewon and see if we could get some western food that we might not be able to find in Ulsan. Within 5 minutes we found a Mexican restaurant, which was pretty much a consensus number 1 pick for the 4 of us. Now the food wasn't as good as you'd find in most places stateside, but it was still pretty ridiculous. And yes, mom, you can get fajitas. As a matter of fact, I not only got fajitas, but got a mojito as well. Not only did we have good food but we were served by a really friendly, outgoing filipino guy that was wearing an afro wig (not really sure why), which just heightened the experience.

We finish dinner and decide to stay in Itaewon for some drinks, why not right? We head over to the Gecko but it was so crowded we couldn't get a table or a place to sit. We move on to another bar, which is really packed as well but we jockey ourselves into a table next to these Moroccan guys. So Lu and I find ourselves talking to the two guys and watching people play pool, which was rather intense, while Mal and Alick routinely beat these Korean guys in darts. After being there for a while, some guy pulls Alick aside because a Korean female friend of his thought he was cute, and this is where the night gets crazy.

So Alick is over at this table talking it up with this girl and I somehow get coerced into sitting over there (I say coerced but it probably didn't take much at all). And the guy who got Alick over there, let's call him random middle aged dude from Florida, decides that he needs to find some girl for me, despite me telling him that I was cool just hanging out. So the guy comes back some 5 minutes later with some girl who claims to be Indonesian-Australian (turns out that she was born in Australia to Indonesian parents and never lived there) so we talk, blah blah blah, she goes away and then comes back and suggest that Alick, myself and Korean girl that Alick was talking to, go to some night club. So we say our goodbyes to Mal and Lu as they head home and Alick and I get ourself into some fun, Itaewon style.

Shortly after treating the Indonesian-Australian girl for the cover fee of the club, she is off on her own. And by shortly, I mean with-in 1 step of entering the club. That was sign #1 that this was not a good idea. #2 was realizing the clientele of the place was the shadiest group of people in Seoul. If the people at the bar from the previous night were villains from a Bond movie, these guys were the henchmen, the butlers with the killer top hats. And to top it off, Indonesian girl knew all of them, on a first, middle and last name basis. Why did anyone think this was a good idea. So after kicking it there for a bit, Alick and I decided it was a good idea to probably leave that place, which included bringing back the Korean girl Alick was talking to. Horrible idea #2 of the evening, as it turned out that this girl was a lot more drunk than we had thought, and a lot more instable than anyone outside of an institution should be. The 3 of us were in the cab and she would be fine one minute, only for her to go crazy the next, sobbing and asking us what we were doing. We tried to let her get out and have the cabbie pull over, but she would magically pull it together only to fall apart some 2 minutes later. And it went on like this for the whole 15 minute cab ride. Thank you Itaewon!!

So I was writing some more to this post and realized that it was going on for too long, so I'm going to wrap up part two and add a short third segment. Don't worry, I've already started it so it will be up in no time flat.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tales of the Waeguk life

Ok, first of all, I'm sorry for not having the second Seoul post up, I've been extremely busy/lazy as of late. My apologies. This post is done by a guest writer, a friend of mine here in Ulsan. He had this incredible story that I felt you the reader needed to read so I asked him if he could type up his story for you all. So no Seoul post today but you do get a special guest blogger. Enjoy!

Well, let me preface this by saying I’m generally not one for telling stories- at least not any of my own- but Chris liked this one and I suppose it can at least serve as a testament- or cautionary tale- for the tenets of spontaneity here in Korea.
I feel like being a waegook here must be paired with a certain kind of suggestibility; a willingness to dive into an endeavor blindly, for the sake of growth and experience. It’s this kind of attitude that buoys you to trying strange, new foods, seeing different places and meeting interesting people. For the most part, it’s a sound principle to live by.
Where this convention perhaps leads to a dilemma is when you find yourself employing it after imbibing some seven screwdrivers and an indiscernible amount of beers, as was the case for me Saturday night at Benchwarmer‘s.
As the bar is emptying out, I’m approached by a few guys I know asking me if I’d maybe want to go a casino.
“Where?” I ask.
“In Busan.” Brian says.
“Cool,” I say. “When?”
“Now,” Nathan says.
Without thinking that it’s four in the morning, or how I rarely gamble and am terrible at it, I readily accept.
Brian drives us there in his car.
The ride to Busan is long, much longer than I would’ve imagined it to be had I imagined anything at all when I accepted. Drunk and tired, I fall asleep in the car, leaving the guys to think I may not even make it to the tables.
At first, it seems that it would’ve been far better for me to have stayed in the car. I lose much of my money playing blackjack, and in the most deflating ways possible, always ending with the dealer robbing me of my chips with that cold distant stare that every dealer in the world seems to practice in front of a mirror. Casually and unapologetically, they drag your chips away from you and deal out the next hand.
For me, there’s no greater self-loathing than the feeling of gambling my money away. I feel weak-willed and bitter against the world.
By around five thirty in the morning, I’m out three hundred dollars, and finished.
“I’ll never gamble again,” I’m thinking to myself.
I sulk in a corner near the slot machines for hours while I wait for everyone to finish, depressed, defeated and still drunk.
At around nine thirty I make my way back to the tables to check on the guys. They’ve moved to three card poker, and they’re doing well enough to where they won’t be leaving any time soon. I sit down and watch and, soon enough, I’m tempted to join once more. I exchange 100,000 more won and watch as my sensible stack is, once again, bled away.
Down to my last chip of 10,000 W, I toss it in pathetically and sink in my chair.
When the dealer hands me my three cards, I’m already expecting to lose. Or- even worse- to get a low pair that will string me along and raise my spirits only long enough to crush them once more.
What I do see when I finally turn them over both chills me and makes my heart race- a strange dual feeling, perhaps due to my fleeting drunkenness and exhaustion.
In my hands I hold a 7, 8, and 9 of diamonds, beaming at me in sequential order so as to remove all doubt that I indeed had a straight flush.
When the dealer sees it, her humor almost seems to change, that coldness leaving her eyes, replaced subtly by a sympathetic glimmer. For a moment, she almost seems happy for me.
Acknowledging my victory, she screams out, “Straight flush-uh!” She calls for her supervisor to watch as she counts out four chips of 100,000 W for me.
Four little chips.
I gladly take them from the dealer, gam-sa-ham-nee-da her a million times over and cash out. Wait- first, I play the last 10,000 W chip once more, hoping for that absurd luck to strike once again which, of course, it doesn’t.
In hindsight, I probably ought to have kept the chip as a nice memento of the night. Something I could carry around and use to remind myself of the merits of pragmatism and restraint here in Korea, maybe even take it out as a conversation piece with a girl at a party someday.
But things like that aren’t always well thought out with me. Many things here, for better or worse I guess, aren’t.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Ok, I know I promised the second part of the Seoul trip but this is something that came up and I have to write it while it's still fresh, and writing this at 4:00 am while still intoxicated is "off the farm" fresh. This is what blogging is all about folks!

Anyways, my friends Mal and Lu invited me to come spend the evening with them, get some dinner and a drink or two, nothing crazy cause Mal and I are both fighting off a cold (those virus carrying kids, I tell ya). I, of course, accepted since the other option for the evening was eating out by myself and then returning back to my apartment to pretend like I was going to clean up or work on grad school applications, ha!

So I meet up with them around 10:00 in the p.m. and then we head over to one bar. After meeting up with the other half of our group, their canadian friend Mike and his Korean Coworker, Martin, along with Martin's friend Nam Yeon, we met up with Mal and Lu's coworker and friends at another bar for some beers and some appetizers that kind of played the role of dinner for the time being.

I was quite keen to end my night there, say around 12:30-1:00ish, given the circumstances and the fact that I was expecting a low key evening. Then, Nam Yeon ran into me on my way out of the bathroom and dared me to do something great for the evening. Ok, maybe he didn't dare me to be great, but he did say that they were going to a "traditional soju" place after being at the current establishment. How can one deny something "traditional", right? So I eagerly accepted..... err caved in after a long fight, that's right, I struggled with the decision.

So we head on over to this place which is a 5 story building which has a sign for many establishments, one of which being Nora Zone (Norae, Nora, however you spell it in English, means song, and generally means that Karaoke will be involved). I hope deep down inside that this is the place Nam Yeon plans on taking us to but I don't get mt hopes up, he did say traditional before, right? Right? Step into the elevator and sure enough, he presses the button for floor 5. Look out Nora Zone, here we come!

Now to preface this is a little bit, I have been to noraebang (노래방, which means song-room) but did not end up remembering the experience so this was basically something new to me. A little about the place, we were led to our own private room which had a screen, and a booth with a table, like one you'd find at a restaurant. We were then enclosed in the room, alone to make asses out of ourselves without anyone ever knowing. Well that might not be entierly true because I heard some of our neighbors singing, but you get the point.

Now it's exciting to have a room just for karaoke, but it doesn't stop there. Oh no, Martin and Nam Yeon either call the front desk or go outside and talk to them, not sure which, but some 15 minutes late a waiter is coming by with some plum wine, and some kiwi soju cocktail, and the food. They brought us a plate of sausages, some kind of Korean shaved ice/ice cream, some Korean omelette thing, two kinds of soup and some skewered meat. Thats what I called service!

Now we've got food, the booze is flowing freely and only one thing is missing, the norae!! Martin and Nam Yeon started things off with a Korean song and rocked it out and everything rolled on from there out. I will say that some of the highlights of the evening, singing wise, was singing "Rainism" by the Korean singer Rain with Nam Yeon. He covered the Korean and I covered the English parts and we rocked out and got something like a 98%. We also did the cheesy of cheesy with barbie girl by Aqua and Nam Yeon and Martin knew it almost as well we did, which I'm not sure as to which is more pathetic. Then Mal, Lu, Mike and I did some classic songs like Wonderwall, Come Together (by the Beatles), Bittesweet Symphony (too dark of a song for karaoke, which we found out too late) and Mal and I did Stairway. Lastly, Nam Yeon and Martin decided that we should close the evening with "We Are the World", definitely the cheesiest of cheese but would you expect anything else from noraebang?????

I wanted to end my blog post there but I am unable to as there is one other thing that I need to touch on. After singing our last song, we leave the room and I stepped into the mens room to take care of business and come back to the front of the lobby expecting to chip in for the room that we had for the evening, only to find out that Nam Yeon took care of it. And i mean he took care of it in the sense that none of us paid him anything for it. Now, I can't speak with certainty for the whole world, but I can't think of too many places where people would treat everybody to an evening out like that. This is not a one time occurance either, as this has happened in the past with me and it has also happened with other foreigners when spending time with Koreans. Without a doubt, Koreans must be some of the most friendly, giving people out there.

All right folks, well that is my noraebang experience. I will see you next time but for now it's off to dream land, a place where kiwi soju rivers flow freely and "Barbie Girl" is the accompaniment to daily life.......

Monday, February 16, 2009

Seoul Trip B.A. (Before Alick or Bad A$$, depends on your point of view!)

First of all, I apologize for sucking recently. I've been hella busy as of late, mostly with trivial stuff, but busy none the less. This here will be the first part of a 2 part series about my trip to Seoul, although I have a feeling it may be long in 2 pieces as well. Anyways, Lunar New Year was celebrated this year on January
26th, so we had off the 26th and 27th which meant it was time to get out of Ulsan. Here we go.........

The trip began with a bunch of disorientation around 6:00 a.m. of Saturday 24th, as Malcolm, Louise and I scrambled around their apartment trying to get things situated so we could get to Ulsan's 역 (yeok, or station) for our 7:00 departure. Come to think of it, it was just like taking a family vacation except without the couch pictures or having a car breakdown on the highway, but I digress.

Now I would love to say that we stepped on a train and then some 5 hours later we arrived to Seoul, but there were some things that stuck out that I just can't omit. First one being, mad props to Lu (Louise) for making bacon sandwiches on a toasted baguette, definitely hit the spot on the trip. Which reminds me, the train ride was some 5 hours long, so you think they would have a small complimentary meal, a muffin/bagel type deal, piece of fruit and juice, but they don't. The tickets were cheap so I'm not going to complain too much, just saying it would've been nice. Now they may not have a meal, but they do have a snack car on the train, and what a snack car it is. To be honest the snacks were a little underwhelming but I can tell you that it was the first train I ever saw that had private rooms with little massage chairs, private noraebangs (karaoke rooms), arcade games and computers with internet access. I didn't partake in any of the forementioned activities, but it is good to know that if I feel the need to sing some Rick Astley on a train, I can do so. Oh, Korea.

Ok, so some 5 hours later or so, we got to Seoul, got a metro ticket and were on our way to the guest house that Mal and Louise booked (once again mad props to the Brits, they were travel agent stand-ins for me as they booked my train tix and the the room at the guesthouse). I must say that Mal and Lu did a good job with the accommodations as we were in a traditional korean guest house. The house and my room in particular, all looked like something straight out of the 19th century. My room more so than Mal and Lu's because it had these circular metal rings used for a door knob as opposed to a proper door knob and it also had like these paper-sliding doors. Quite cool indeed. Another thing about the house, the owner was really nice and provided us with maps, and he also had this traditional Korean dog that was very sweet and chill, so we would just sit out for a minute or two and give the dog some attention for a minute before we would head out.

After putting our stuff down, grabbing some 갈비 (galbi, or grilled rib meat), we were ready to tackle the tourist thing. So we started our Seoul journey by traveling through Insadong, which is a little touristy area in Seoul. There were a bunch of stores selling the touristy stuff you expect to find in Asia along with some trendy shops selling artsy craftsy stuff. Lu was probably a little more interested in the artsy stuff than Mal and I, but it was cool regardless. After walking around the area, we decided to warm up with some tea at a traditional Korean Tea House. The tea house we went to was quite cool and trendy, and the tea I ordered there was good.

After prying our heated bums from the ondol heated floors in the tea house, we mustered up the courage to face the frigid Seoul weather and finish our Insa-Dong trek, which was celebrated with some skewered Korean meat dipped in the spiciest sauce found in Korea. Insa-Dong complete, back to the guest house for some much needed rest.

With our batteries charged and wearing 16 layers of clothes (did I mention it's cold in Seoul?), we headed out for our evening's festivities. We made it over to this one area of Seoul where it's supposed to have all of these markets that are open in the evening/early hours of the morning. Unfortunately, a lot of the places were closed due to the Lunar New Year Holiday, well that was our reasoning, but we had fun regardless. We did find these 3 buildings that from the outside look like department stores but really are indoor clothes markets. To put it best, picture a crowded Asian Market where people sell clothes but add escalators, it was crazy. Another bonus, they would always try and get Mal and my attention by greeting us with "Hey, you a handsome boy." What a nice boost for the self esteem.... errr sales tactic.... Furthermore, these markets are open till 5:00 in the morning. Not really sure why I would need to buy some trendy clothes at 4:30 in the morning, but it's good to know I could do so if necessary.

We finish with the markets, well maybe not Louise, but we were done for the evening, and so we thought, "hey, it's around midnight on a Saturday night, we're young whipper-snappers, let's get some drinks." (maybe not in those exact words) So, we decided to head on down to Insa-Dong, the night was ours to be had... or so we thought. Turns out Insa-Dong is a great little district for the day but is dead in the evening, not even one decent Hof (beer house, a borrowed German word). So what does one do in such a position? Roll on over to the closest corner store, buy some beer, pringles and other 과자 (snacks) and head back to the guest house and watch some Simpsons until 2:00 in the morning. On a sidenote, Pringles are pretty much the most dependable snack you can get from a grocery store in Korea. I say this because I've had some imitation Doritos that had as much taste as cardboard.

Day 2 in Seoul had a late start, about noon, which was more or less a common theme for the weekend. After grabbing a bite we headed over for some culture, to see Gyeongbokgung Palace. The cool thing about Gyeongbokgung is that the Korean Folk Art Museum is right next to it, so they had a replica replica village outside. We sought asylum from the cold (Seoul is cold I tell you) by stepping into the Museum for a bit. I had fun wandering around and would've liked to spend more time there, but someone isn't keen on museums. Lu, I'm looking at you on this one. The highlights of the museum were the kimchi exhibit, the hall that covered korean life durimg the Joseon period (18th century or so) from birth to death, and yes, there was a placenta chamber at the beginning. I can't believe I forgot to take a picture of that. Lastly, there was special exhibit for the year of the ox and an ox shaped board on a wall where you could leave a wish for the new year.

So Lu finally got Mal and I out of there and onto the real attraction, the palace. Upon entering the palace our attention was quickly drawn to a small pond that was frozen over, where hoards of Koreans were playing. They had these little toboggans with skate blades and a rope to have someone pull you along with some dreidle like game where you whipped the dreidle and it kept spinning. Needless to say, the inner kid in us came out and we gave the Koreans something to stare at, as the 3 foreigners took turns pulling each other across the ice.

Moving along, we made our tour around the palace, which like all good cultural relics in Korea, consists of mostly renovated buildings because the Japanese burned them down. Which led me to the observation that there is one fire extinguisher per every 10 yards or so at any Korean Historic site. Why not just have a fire department on site? Furthermore, I've learned the Korean word for fire extinguisher (소화기) without it ever being in any lesson or studying note cards. The palace itself was originally constructed during the Joseon Period, which ended in the late 19th century although I'm not entirely sure when it began, maybe in the 16th century. The buildings were pretty cool, with the best ones being the dining hall that was on the edge of another pond, and then the halls where the king would meet with foreign ambassadors. Now, I wasn't a fan of the cold of Seoul but the snow did make the views seem prettier, although it was annoying to keep taking off my gloves to take pictures. To wrap up our self-guided tour, we came out the entrance of the palace to see some guards dressed in traditional garb from the Joseon Period. A nice finishing touch I must say.

Gyeongbokgung Palace complete, we grab some food and then on to the next site, N Seoul Tower. N Seoul Tower is a tower on a mountain/hill, emphasis on the hill, where you can see all of Seoul. The tower itself isn't that impressive as it was built on a hill, but the sight is rather good. We walked around the tower and took some pictures from some of the cliffs of the mountain with the brutal Seoul wind whipping our skin from reptile skin to sandpaper skin. Anyways, after mulling around the outer parts of the tower and warming up with some hot chocolate/coffee, we made our move up the tower. Some points about the tower, at the top they have a circle where you can walk around and see all of the city and in the glass they have signs of the different major cities and their distance. So you could see that from one point you were some 10,000 kilometers from Chicago, or 300 km from Pyongnang (the capital of North Korea), and Buenos Aires was the farthest at some 19,000 km from Seoul. Also, the men's bathroom was the nicest bathroom I've probably ever been in. Not only was it really clean and all modern, but you could see all of Seoul, well in one direction, while you were at the urinal. Brilliant! We also were smart to follow the guidebook's directions and get to the tower around sunset, so we could see the city go from light to dark and see all of the lights. The most random thing about the tower? There's a teddy bear museum/exhibit at the bottom, not really sure how towers and teddy bears are related but apparently they are. N Seoul Tower complete, back to the guest house and wait for Alick's arrival.

With the end of the N Seoul Tower trip we have completed the first part of the 2 part wrap-up for the Seoul Trip. Look out for part 2 sometime this decade......

Monday, February 9, 2009

It'a little like this

Ok, so I know I said was going to have the Seoul trip post up soon but I've been lazy and busy as of late, what can you do. So my friends tipped me off about this song/video done by these waeguks (foreigners) and it was so funny that I thought you guys need to see it. Now I don't live in Geumchon, and to be honest I'm not entirely sure where it is, so certain places mentioned aren't the same for me, but I can tell you that it does show a lot of the Korea that us foreigners see, all in 4 minutes. Enjoy! Oh, and I have started the Seoul trip post, so that will be up in shortly (so realistically another week, ha!)

Ok, so blogger isn't being cool right now and wanting to post to the link to the video, so just copy this web address and put it in your browser and enjoy!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Screen Golf and all of its glory

So Alick, Mal (see previous blog post for character development) and I try to come up with a new way to spend our Friday (Friday the 16th) evening as opposed to the usual hanging out in a bar and trying to forget about the devil children we are supposed to be "teaching". What resulted was about the best hour to hour and half in the history sport. Welcome to our night of screen golf!

Apparently, it is quite expensive to play golf on a proper course in Korea, like hundres of dollars expensive. I think it has something to do with Korea being quite small and not having a lot of flat, grassy areas but I'm not entirely sure on that. With that said, golf is still quite popular in Korea, so how do you solve this problem? Also, there is no California/Arizona type climate in Korea so there is no place you can golf during the winter months.

So some quick thinking Koreans decided to tackle these problems by making a room where one could play golf. This room isn't some mega indoor complex yet a room the size of a big living room that is in a 3 story building. Awesome!

In the front of the room was the screen which you would hit the ball into. In the back of the room they had a couch for the people waiting for their turn (we call those people Alick)and there was a mini-fridge stocked with juice/health drinks. The actual playing surface was a tee for your woods and then a small turf area for the irons/wedges and putter. There was a computer next to the small playing area which was needed to scan the ball and then it would register where your shot would go. Unfortunately, when the whole screen golf was conceptualized, the koreans didn't consider southpaws as the computer sits across from where right-handed golfers would stand, so basically right where lefties would take their shot. Other than that glitch, the whole screen golf concept exceeded my expectations and then some.

So, the three of us took out our week's worth of aggression on some computerized balls by hitting them into a projection screen. Unfortunately for Alick, Mal and I got more bang for our buck as we had played under 5 games of golf between the two of us prior to the screen golf, so we averaged about 8 strokes per hole. Although Alick did find ways of enjoying himself and he did make the most of his opportunities to play, whether it be making birdies or making holes in the ceiling. Furthermore, his birdie celebrations were priceless. With that said, I did have some good cuts and probably had some of my best 5 wholes of golf.

In summary, the whole screen golf concept is the way golf is intended to be played. No walking, no rain delays and drinking beer and eating pringles while sitting on a couch and waiting for your turn. What more could you ask for?

Ok, so I'm a little behind on my blogging but with good reason as I was in Seoul for the Lunar New Year this past weekend. I have a lot to blog about in regards to the Seoul trip and will probably do a 2 part Seoul post in the near future. Also, pics of both the screen golf and Seoul trip should be up on facebook in the near future. If you do not have facebook, send me an e-mail or leave a request plus e-mail address on the blog for said pictures. Take care all!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's about time for one of these.......

So yesterday was the 2 month mark of me being in Korea, not that I'm counting or anything, so I figured it's time that I do a blog about my thoughts on Korea. I was originally thinking of doing a "what I like/what I don't like" but I have a feeling that could be another novel like last week's post, so I will focus on the positive and hopefully that will keep the post shorter.

#1. Being able to walk everywhere/having readily available public transportation. Ok, so the first part of that has to do with my location in Ulsan, but it is great to be able to do all of my shopping, eating out, drinking/socializing within a 15 minute walk. It's also amazing being able to go to other parts of the city by bus or taxi and have it be under 6 dollars (generally speaking).

#2. Soccer, or as the locals call it, chuk-gu. It's amazing to live in a place that actually cares about soccer. I swear at any given moment there will be something soccer related, whether it be highlights, actual games, repeats of actual games, bloopers, or whatever. I swear of I've seen highlights of the 2002 world cup 20 times by now, and I continue to watch it even though I already know what happens. Fear not you non soccer loving people, they do show lots of golf, billiards, korean basketball league games (mens and womens), and volleyball.... Ok, maybe it is better to be a soccer fan. One more thing on this subject, it's great not having American ESPN, we have MBC ESPN, whatever that means. Just picture waking up and turning on sports and seeeing highlights instead of seeing T.O. breakdown in a press conference, 30 days of Brett Favre footage or baseball players "testify" in front of congress. Awesome!

#3. Gogi-Jip, or B.B.Q restaurants. By far my favorite Korean food and the whole experience is so enjoyable as well. You get a grill in front of you, grill your meat and then wrap it up with some chili sauce, small chunks of garlic, green onion, all in a mint leave. I will now move on or I will end up drooling on the keyboard.

#4 Ondol heating. Most places in Korea have what's called ondol heating which is heating that comes through the laminate floor. At first I was a little reluctant but it's perfect for someone like me that always has cold feet. Plus, you throw your blankets on the floor before you go to bed and they get all toasty. I even know some people use it to dry their clothes.

#5. K-Pop, also known as Korean Pop. This is a guilty pleasure but K-pop is so cheesy but it's so damn catchy and sugary. It's impossible to walk down the streets, especially the cell phone shops that generally play the music, and not hum the music for the rest of the day. I don't even know the lyrics for most of them but that doesn't prevent me from humming them all day.

#6. Korean Baked goods. Who would've thought, right? I've already written about papa roti, which i haven't had in a while but it is delicious none-the-less. I also put in a picture of the delicious fried pancakes on the blog, which are possibly the tastiest things on earth. Hoo-ray street food! Another big thing with my co-teachers are roll cakes, and mocha roll cakes are the best. Lastly, a new favorite are these little croqutte rolls which have savory foods inside. Some of them include spicy chicken, curry chicken, and vegetable. I know it sounds weird and I was reluctant to try but they are tasty. Think of them as the Korean meat pie/empanada.

#7. The English Translations. At my English School, there is a sign that says "Don't open the windows or you will hurt". An English School! Most recently I saw a sign in a restaurant that is on the second floor of a building, that said "When descending, take care the foot". These are the ones that stick out but some people wear stuff on their t-shirts where I'm sure they have no clue what's being said.

#8. The people. I know this is cliché but the people are really friendly and welcoming. According to Lonely Planet, Korean people are innately xenophobic or suspicious of foreigners but most people have been super nice to us. The first instance that suck out was when I was having dinner with some waeguks and a korean guy and the owner brought a bunch of cokes to our dinner table, which is a bigger deal than it would be in the states because fountain drinks don't exist outside MacDonalds or other fast food joints. There's also the owner of the Thai restaurant across the street who will offer me a coke or coffee free of charge and since I'm usually there once a week, he'll give me a small discount as well. Also, my first soccer game with the wonshot wonderers, some team brought us a plate of b.b.q meat, which was a nice gesture if nothing else because I was not going to eat some meat before our game.

Apart from the discounts, most people are excited to see foreigners and love to try and talk to you. If you even try and speak Korean, they love you even more. In some ways it's kind of like being celebrity to a lesser extent. I usually don't mind it but sometimes when I'm eating I feel like people are watching me. It probably doesn't help that I suck with chopsticks so that probably brings some more attention to myself.

Outside of the Koreans, I obviously spend a lot of time with waeguks, and I have met a lot of cool people. I've also met some obnoxious, token Americans, but I've met some cool ones too. I find myself hanging out with mostly British people, it may be from playing soccer, but that's usually how it goes. I've probably spent more time with Alick, a bloke from London, who you all met in my most recent posting if not before, which I attribute to him and I arriving at the same time and kind of being in a similar position. I've also befriended this couple from outside Kent, England, named Mal(colm) and Lu (Louise), and they're a blast to hang out with as well. They actually have been traveling all around Asia, been to China and Russia recently, so they're always good for an entertaining story. And then there is Craig, my co-teacher and fellow country-man who has been like a godsent, as he knows where to go to eat, which buses to take, etc. I'm pretty sure I'd be in a ditch right now if it weren't for Craig.

I'm sure there are some other little things out there that slipped through the cracks of this post, but I think I hit on some key points here. I'm sure I'll post some more little things as they come about. Hope you're all well.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Chris and Alick's trip to Vermont....... errr Gyeongju

I am writing this as a warning as I wrap up this post. This post is quite long so make sure you have some time to read this. I am not to be held responsible for people arriving late to work, missing classes, not spending time with loved ones, etc.

Last week being New Year, our school was given off from the 31st until the Monday the 5th. My English friend Alick, who had a similar vacay schedule to mine, and I decided to get out of Ulsan and see some of Korea. Wagons north, towards Gyeongju.

So we met at 4:00 on New Years Day, which is just an indication of how hard we partied on NYE, and got a cab to the train station in Ulsan. Within 20 minutes we've boarded a train and get to Gyeongju in another 50 minutes or so.

After searching, for what seeemed like hours, for a suitable place to spend the night, we came across a hostel recommended by Lonely Planet. The first night in Gyeongju was pretty mild as we had both been out late the night before.

Before I get into the meat of our journey, please let me give a little info about Gyeongju. Gyeongju is a city of about 270,000 people or so, well according to Lonely Planet it is, but it is a pretty significant city. Back during the Silla Dynasty, which was from around 57 B.C. to 945 A.D., Gyeongju was the capital of Korea. Gyeongju itself probably has more monuments, temples and so forth than any other part of Korea. Once the Silla dynasty fell apart, Gyeonju became lesse relevant.

So day one, Friday the 2nd, we stroll around downtown Gyeongju to what I call "Tumuli Park" which is this park with all these Tumulis, or mounds. The Tumuli mounds are where they buried the kings during this period, much like the Egyptians and the Pharoahs. We were able to go into one which has since been turned into a museum with relics of the period.

We strolled around some more in the park, saw some observatory made of stone, got lots of stares from children and adult koreans alike, all in all a typical day. Next stop was the Anapji pond, which used to have some cool bridges and buildings but they were burned down so all that's left are some relics and some models of the bridges/buildings. I think it was the Japanese that burned it down somewhere in the 16th century, so I'm blaming you, Summer Masuda, for robbing me of this experience.

We then caught a bus from downtown Gyeongju to the outskirts to see the Bulguksa Temple. Bulguksa, much like the other temples, is kind of like a square with a couple of different halls that will have a golden buddha statue inside and lots of candles, incense or both. Also, part of the buddhist experience is buying a corndog on the way up the mountain to the temple.

While in the area we decided to stop on over to Seokguram Grotto which is some buddha shrine in this mountain. It's supposedly a UNESCO site, as is Bulguksa, but is underwhelming, well at least at 4,000 won (3 dollars or so) to enter. I guess carrying a heavy stone buddha statue up a mountain in the 7th century was some kind of feat or something.

After visiting Seokguram, we decided to head back into Central Gyeongju for the evening. The second evening, we stayed in what is called a yeoinsuk, which are these little dingy whole-in-the-wall places right off of the main street in Gyeongu (well yeoinsuks are all over Korea I guess). We tried asking the lady for 2 beds, one room, I actually learned bed and was able to ask that and also ask how much, so my Korean is improving, but we soon realized that it was not possible. To describe it, the room was a closet with a single bed, a stand with a t.v., 3 foot narrow path to get from door to t.v., and then a bathroom about 5 foot wide-5 food long-8 foot tall, with a toilet, sink, shower spray hose and bucket (your guess is as good as mine). If you do ever come to Korea and want to do it on the cheap, yeoinsuks are the way to go. Also, the bed had an electric heating pad on top of the mattress, brilliant.

The following day, the 3rd of January, we head out to the area close to Bulguksa, only a little bit further away from everything, and go to Golgulsa Temple. Alick and I had both heard about a thing called a Temple stay, where one stays in a Buddhist temple for the night and Golgulsa provides such programs so we decided to give it a shot.

We arrived just after lunch time on Saturday but just in time for archery, 2:00. At precisely 2:16 I realized I still suck at archery. After walking around the temple, which has an impressive stone carving of Buddha in the mountain, we had dinner then got ready for the evening chants. We did the chants, which was more or less standing, bowing, crouching down and doing it all over again. We were never explained what was going on so we had no clue the whole half hour. I imagine it would be like dropping a Korean person into a Roman Catholic Mass given in English or so.

After the evening chant we did Sunmudo, which is a martial art done by the Korean Buddhist Monks. Golgulsa is apparently the capital of Sunmudo and never hesitates to mention it. Our training was more or less split up into 40 minutes of breathing/stretching exercises, 30 minutes of martial arts moves that we could not do, and then about 20 minutes of meditation/demonstration. End of sunmudo, return to rooms and go to bed, lights out at 10.

The following morning, it's rise and shine at 4:00 and be at the morning chant at 4:30 in the morning or else it's 3000 bows. After the chants we did some more meditation and walking meditation.

Next we had a ceremonial breakfast which was by far the most complicated eating experience but very rewarding as well. The whole meal was consumed in silence and we were given 4 bowls, all sitting together, and had to take them out one by one with out making a noise. Then the monks would walk by and dole out your portions and you would rotate the bowl to let them knwo you have enough food. You also did not want a lot of food as buddhists don't waste so you have to eat everything. In the smallest bowl, you put your vegetables and kimchi. 2nd smallest was clean water, then the soup bowl and the biggest was rice. You had to take one piece of kimchi and put it in the soup to take off the red pepper and then put it in the rice bowl to save for later as you would use this piece of cabbage to clean your bowl. Then, eat everything in your bowls, bit by bit. Then they would give you some water, take the water and kimchi (holding it with chopsticks) and clean your rice bowl, move the water to soup bowl, then vegetable bowl, then drink it. Then take the clean water and do the same process, thus cleaning your bowls 2 times. The bowls should be pretty clean the 1st time so that by the second time you rinse your bowls they are clean. The idea is buddhism is all about mindful practices, so you should be mindful when eating, cleaning etc. Then when finished, the monks would pick up your clean water and it had to be clean because they give you clean water and then you give them back clean water. Whatever amount of water wasn't clean you had to drink. Confusing right? Just remember to be thankful you have brillo pads and not shreds of cabbage for cleaning!

The temple then had some trips to some local sites, which included the ruins of a great hall from the Silla Dynasty, King Munmu's underwater tomb and Girimsa Temple site. About King Munmu, he was so big on protecting the nation that he told his people that when he died he wanted to be buried in the East Sea (Sea between Korea and Japan) in the hopes that he would turn into a Dragon and protect Korea. So that's what his son did, or so they say. It's never been proven either way but there are a bunch of rocks some 200 meters off the shore which are cool to look at.

Next is Girimsa site, which to paraphrase LP (Lonely Planet from now on will be LP), is about the size of Bulguksa Temple, as far as number of buildings, but is less visited because of it's location. I actually enjoyed Girimsa a lot but I had already taken a bunch of photos so I was kind of sick being a tourist at that point.

Alick and I then got back to the temple and decided we were sick of being buddhists and decided to skip lunch at the temple and head back to Ulsan.

Some things that Alick and I learned that weekend. Number 1, being a buddhist is incredibly painful. We spent a lot of time sitting on the floor "indian style", which stopped being comfortable somewhere around age 10 or so. Also, the whole bowing, kneeling and sitting on the tops of your feet was incredibly painful after 5 minutes, but doing it for a half hour, geesh.

Number 2, it's hard to clear the mind at times. We both said that when meditating how hard it was for us to keep our mind off of our "to do list", women, football, etc. Buddhism is much easier when you live in a temple in a mountain that is pretty far from most of civilization. It's also a lot easier when you do it frequently, I guess the same can be said of the bowing, kneeling etc.

Number 3, the temple stay was kind of disappointing. I thought it was going to be really traditionally but instead I saw the head monk look at his cell phone as we were going to do the Sunmudo. Also, it was hard for me to get anything out of the chants as I had no clue what was going on. For me, the best part was the ceremonial breakfast, I think mostly because that's what I expected the experience to be. Not talking, cleaning everything with cleaned kimchi, etc.

Lastly, Gyeongju is really a pretty cool place. It doesn't have much of a night life, maybe in the university are but not much going down in Central Gyeongju, trust me, Alick and I tried and failed miserably, but there is a lot to see. I think we saw a lot but barely scratched the surface of the city. Apparently there are some hiking trails, waterfalls, some big pagodas, etc. all on the outskirts of the city. The parks are also supposed to be nice when the cherry blossoms come in during the spring. I definitely could see myself doing a one day/one night trip there sometime.

Wrapping it up, if you're still reading this post, #1 hats off to you. #2 some small housekeeping items. Happy New Year to everyone. I'm not big into New Years but I hope you all had a great one and hope this is a good one for you all. And finally, after much failure, I've decided to stop putting up pictures on the blog. I've come to this conclusion for mostly 2 reasons. First of all, I put them all on facebook which is easier to use, and it takes a lot of time to put pics up on both facebook and the blog. Secondly, whenever I try putting the pics up on the blog, it always seems to end up messing up the format and leaving me dissatisfied. I even do a check before I publish and it will look good, and then it sucks after publishing.

If you don't have a facebook account, get one (L\looking at you Marianne Herricht). This is the 21st century, you know. But if you must be stubborn, then send me an e-mail or leave a request on the blog and I will e-mail them to you but I make no guarantee of when you will get them as I am notorious for being slow to respond. If you have a facebook account and you're not one of my friends, what are you waiting for, add me today for the low, low price of 19.99. No seriously, just look up my name and add me, there is no fee.

That is all. I hope you enjoyed this segment of Chris in Korea: The T.V. Miniseries.