Monday, October 19, 2009

Climbing mountains

The past few weeks have seen a change in temperature and its safe to say that fall has arrived in Korea. That's fine though, because now is the best time to sight see.

Last weekend I went paintballing with a fellow teacher from my school through We went out into a forest, northwest of Seoul, with 50 or so other foreigners. Everyone was pumped to shoot some guns and have some healthy battles. It was a little shocking to see so many trees and breath fresh air, seeing how it has been over a month now that I've last had a deep breath of Washington air.

Paintballing was a whole lot of fun, lasting about 3 hours. The games included team elimination and capture the flag, starting with 25 vs. 25 and dropping in size to 5 vs. 5 at the very end.

This past Saturday, together with four other people, I made a hike to the top of Mt. Bukhansan, about an hour and half from where I live. The mountain nestles right against Seoul, but to the northwest of the city, whereas I live in the southeast. I had no idea before coming here, but Koreans are obsessed with hiking. South Korea is covered with mountains, taking up about 70% of the land, so there is no shortage of trails to tackle. But these people take it to a professional level, wearing the latest hiking clothes, backpacks with hiking poles, and everything else that comes along with climbing Mt. Everest. During the weekends, Seoulites flee the city to get some exercise and spend time in Buddhist temples littered all over these mountains.

The hike started simple enough, a steady but gradual climb up with lots of other hikers. The first half hour was spent weaving through tiny streets sandwitched between korean barbecue stands and little restaurants. Eventually, we were making our way up, enjoying the changing colors that fall brings to the trees. Whenever we took breaks, Koreans would stop to talk to us, practice their English, and brag about their children and their accomplishments. One elderly couple, that had spent 15 years living in Philadelphia, beamed about their son scoring perfectly on the SAT's and graduating from Carnegie Mellon. I guess parents are the same the world over; they love their kids, especially if they have something to brag about.

After about 3 hours of an increasingly vertical climb, using a cable as the only thing keeping us from falling down the steep slope, we made it to the top, 830 meters above sea level, 4 kilometers from the bottom to the top. The view was absolutely breathtaking and unlike anything I've ever seen. The city of Seoul and its suburbs seemed to stretch endlessly, only to be curbed by other mountains. The pictures don't serve justice to the amazing experience of being on top of this mountain. Needless to say, I'm going to hiking again soon.

This is the mountain at the start of the hike.

A description for ya

These food stands are all over Korea, and this trail was no exception. This lady was making some sort of pork bbq and dumplings on skewers. I'm trying lots of new food with mixed success. Unfortunately, even my stomach can't always process everything...gotta be careful.

These are kimchi pots. The pots stay outside and ferment for a few weeks or months until they are ready to be served!

One of the Buddhist temples we saw along the way.

The inside of the temple. I've been told Koreans come to these to meditate during their hikes. No one was inside when I looked.

A part of Seoul.

It was really windy and cold at the peak. The pole behind us is a South Korean flag waving in the wind.

Near the top.

I uploaded two short videos from the hike.

After the hike, we went to TGI Fridays because a few of us have been missing American food (myself being one of those people). It was like being right at home! Burgers, quesadillas, mac and cheese bites, etc. They even split the bill, which is the first time I've ever seen it dong in Korea.

I went to an English speaking church, Jubilee Church, with two of the girls from my hagwon on Sunday. Everyone there was in their 20's and 30's and it really wasn't very different from modern non-denominational churches back home. A band playing and leading worship and one sermon, led by a Korean-American that grew up in Philadelphia. Half of the people there were Korean-Americans and the other half were regular Americans/Canadians/westerners teaching English here. There are other churches here that have English services. The next one I plan on checking out is the largest church in the world in membership.

A few last tidbits. Don't write a Korean's name using a red-ink pen, its considered bad luck, as I found out at school today. Also, having facial, arm, or leg hair is proving to be problem. My kindergartners love touching my leg hair especially, then jumping back in excitement. Now they're moving on to tugging and pulling the hairs on my toes, and that's not cool at all.

I'm sitting in a coffee shop right now, called Tom N Toms Coffee and there is a large flyer near the doorway advertising the 2009 Korea International Music Festival. The reason it caught my eye was because of the Ukrainian trident as one of the sponsors. Here's the website, This isn't the first time I've run into Ukraine here, I've met a few guys that are from Ukraine dancing hip hop for a few weeks in Korea. Small world.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Missing people

Well, it's been a little over a month now that I've been teaching and I'm beginning to miss a few things, one of them being friends and family. I just spent some time talking to my Dad via Skype and that really made me miss what I had back in Washington. Knowing that someone will always think of you is a difficult feeling to describe for me, but I'm thankful that I have that and its one that helps when feeling a little down.

The weather is gradually getting cooler with each day, although its still warm enough to walk around in shorts and sandals. I'm pretty fortunate as to where I ended living because of the lakes that are a short two blocks away from my apartment. The track around them is 2.5 kilometers (like the rest of the world, they don't use miles here) and is great for exercise, albeit sometimes difficult to navigate due to all of the powerwalkers and their swinging arms. There were less than a dozen people running, the other couple hundred were power walking. It must be a Korean thing.

Last night, a group of us went out to dinner with one of the teacher's parents that came to visit for a week. We found a restaurant with decently priced beef! Thank God, because the Burger King here serves some sort of beef that has the texture of wet humus that is sprinkled with beef seasoning. Pork is huge in Korea, but beef is five times what it costs in the USA. I saw an Outback Steakhouse the other day, I'll have to see what they're like.

I was grading one of my students' tests today. Their use of English can be pretty funny sometimes. For example, the question is "What does the word 'vital' mean?" The seven year old responds "Vital mean leaky faucet." haha

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Art, the Olympics, and mosquitoes

This weekend is Chuseok in Korea, which is the equivalent of our Thanksgiving. Koreans leave the city and go visit their ancestral towns to celebrate where they are from, remember their ancestors, and spend time with family. Its remarkable how empty the city is, with many restaurants closed and almost all the stores shutting down for the holiday. Its actually less stressful walking around the streets and the air feels cleaner.

Before making the big move to Seoul, I was told that the mosquitoes here are the most persistent and annoying in the world. I thought I experienced the worst mosquitoes in Ukraine one summer, but the Korean ones are notch worse. They somehow get into my apartment and wont allow me to sleep. A few nights ago, I was up until 5:00am, dog tired, sitting in my bathroom with the light on, waiting for one to fly in. As soon as one did, I'd shut the door and try to kill the bloody thing. The bathroom trap worked and 10 mosquitoes died that night but I knew that this couldn't continue, I need to sleep! Once again, Mr. Moon came to the rescue by recommending I buy a spray at the local grocery store. Sure enough, the stuff works and I've been sleeping like baby again.

I've been exploring Seoul almost everyday, but I want to share pics from the Olympic park. Its one subway stop from my place and supposedly the only park in Seoul where people are allowed to walk on the grass. For those that don't know, Seoul hosted the Olympics in 1988.

This is the world peace gate, which is the first thing you see walking up to the park.

Pillars with unique faces line both sides of the peace gate.

This is right near the peace gate. Lotteria is Korea's equivalent of McDonald's (they have McDonald's everywhere too). The burgers aren't to my liking though. Koreans love their coffee and Starbucks is easy to find as well.

Lotteria advertises a new burger. One patty is chicken, the other is beef (it might be pork, I don't know). I'll pass.

Similar to Seattle, they have a sculpture park here. The art is from all around the world and there were probably over 50 sculptures throughout the area. Very cool.

This one is from the USA

This one was from Italy, if remember correctly

From Spain

A view of the peace gate from a hill in the park. The park was full of families having picnics and people rollerblading, riding bikes, and enjoying the day.

Now a few random photos. This is a Kia for sale for 11,000,000 won, which is about $8,800 USD. The cars have the prices right on top of them.

This is just one of many churches in the this city. Its remarkable how many churches there are here, which are very easy to spot at night because they all have an unmistakable red neon cross on top the buildings.

A large Methodist church. Most of the church buildings are regular looking office buildings, but the way you can tell its a church is because of the red neon cross on top.

I don't like donuts but in case I get the urge, Krispy Kreme is in my subway station.

In case of a gas attack, the subways have gas masks. I saw about a dozen, so I'm not sure how they'd be rationed. Women and children first?