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.......