Sunday, June 28, 2009

Korean as a common language

At my Korean language hagwon, there's only two people in my class; me and a college student from Japan. In class we only speak Korean, because... well.. it's Korean class. But, as I realized quickly, if I wanted to talk to him outside of class, I was going to have to speak Korean too, since his English comprehension skills were extremely low. As it turns out, this friendship has turned into a great way of learning Korean for the both of us. I'm accustomed to only speaking Korean until my grammar or vocabulary skills run out on me, or my head starts to hurt, then I switch back to English. But with my Japanese friend, I can't do that. Talking with him often, I think, has really helped my Korean fluency. We're both at the same level, grammar and vocabulary wise, so we rarely use words that the other doesn't understand. I'm sure every Korean around us must be trying so hard not to laugh when they hear us speaking because we probably sound like 2 year olds, but it's fun. Of course our conversations are only limited to our tiny vocabulary, so we'll never be able to have any in depth conversation about international affairs. I also noticed that when we enter into a shop together, speaking Korean, even in Itaewon, the shopkeepers will automatically speak Korean to us.. even to me. I'm sure they must assume he is Korean at first, but there's no mistaking me for a Korean. Let's hope my Korean keeps improving!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fun night views of Seoul

We took these photos by Noksapyon station, looking over towards those big beautiful apartment buildings by Samgakji station.

Nothing exciting to blog about today. One month left 'til I'm done teaching the accursed pre-schoolers and can go back to my cushy afternoon schedule. I'm at home on a Friday night... how did I become so lame?? Maybe I'll go to the mart for a beer in a little while.... don't worry, not alone...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cool random place to hang out...

There are tons of random cool places to hang out in Seoul and there's no way I could ever write about every place I've been to, but last Saturday night I found a tiny unsuspecting place in the middle of nowhere that deserved a shout-out.

As far as I can tell the name is just 막골리(makkoli). Makkoli is a traditional Korean rice wine of sorts. It sort of has a white milky, chalky flavor that most people tend to love or hate. This restaurant specializes in all sorts of traditional Korean drinks, including 4 kinds of makkoli. Though the restaruant specializes in traditional korean drinks, the ambiance is more of a fusion of many different cultures. It is completly decked out in bamboo, and it has a bar that reminds me of a japanese style establishment. Not only that, but they had hookas available to smoke, if that's your style.

As I said, it's sort of in a random part of town. It's located about 5 minutes walk from Sookmyung women's university station. Go out exit 1 (?) and turn around and go around the corner. From there, go down the first street on your right, it will be on your left, across the street from a Chinese Food restaurant (which is also decent). Didn't see an English menu, but the staff looked young, so they probably speak a little English.

A new bill

Today is the official release date of the 50,000 won bill. Until now, there has only been notes of 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 won (actually there is a 100,000 won note as well, but I don't count it because it looks like a check... but its not). On the average day, having nothing higher than 10,000 won notes is fine. But unfortunately, there is always that day that you need to carry around large sums of money. Carrying around 200 or 300,000 won means that I can't close my wallet. Say you pay your rent in cash... carrying around 2,000,000 won in 10,000 notes is more or less the same as carrying around a brick. So, I'd say this bill will be warmly welcomed. Not to mention its the first bill with a woman on it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ice Skating in June

Sunday I went ice skating for the first time since I was 12 or 13. Lotte World has an ice skating rink that is open year round. We didn't get there until almost 9:00, but we were able to skate until they closed at 10:30. The rink is nice, but the only downside is the fact that you have to wear gloves (something about a safety issue). I was dripping in sweat.

Me trying to be cool...

You can see the rest of Lotte World here in the background. Lotte World is an indoor (and outdoor) theme park.

We had to take a break during the nightly laser show at about 9:30.

Our skates.... they were pretty bad... but they did the job... even if our feet did hurt afterwards....

The best summer treat

Popingsu (팥빙수)! This delicious treat can be found in many restaurants in Seoul. This particular one was purchased in Paris Baguette (if you couldn't tell) for only 4,500 won. Actually, this wasn't popingsu, it was kwailpingsu (과일빙수).. which has fruit and no red beans. Actually It has shaved ice, ice cream and lots of amazing fruits. Definitely worth every won.

Two signs of summer...

First sign of summer arrived yesterday, with the start of the rainy season. We had an unrelenting rain all day and it's making me a bit depressed about the prospects of the rest of my summer.

The second sign was this:

Drunken ajossis passed out on the sidewalk. No, he's not homeless, and yes, that is a full bottle of beer next to him.

Yup, summer has officially begun.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Somehow, with a single click of the mouse I managed to delete my entire list of links to other blogs. I tried my best to get all my old favorite blogs up there, but I'm sure I missed some. If you would like me to add a link to your blog, just leave a comment, and I'd be happy to do a link exchange (as long as your blog is somewhat relevant to mine) if you add my blog to yours.

Friday, June 19, 2009

(news from home) Gov. Deval Patrick's House For Sale

Governor Deval Patrick's home in Milton, MA (my home town) is up for sale. Now that his kids are grown he realized that he doesn't need 6,800 sq ft of living space. He's planning on finding a condo downtown Boston. Who knows, maybe he'll even walk to work. I know my mother will miss the police detail that is usually working our backstreets, keeping his house safe from danger. If you are interested in this fabulous piece of property, it can be yours for $1.9 million.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Trip to the hair salon

Before / After

Well, I finally worked up the courage to visit a Korean hairdresser. I've heard (and seen) some of the atrocities caused by Korean hairdressers on Westerner's hair. It's not their fault, really... our hair is just a completely different texture than Korean hair... god forbid if you have any curls... then you're really screwed. And we tend to want different hair styles.

But, I finally broke down and decided to go last week. Besides the language barrier, the only major difference was the fact that they cut hair dry here. They don't even wet it with a squirt bottle. Though I found it odd, though, because my boyfriend got his hair cut, and they used a squirt bottle on his hair... why on short hair and not on long hair??? I don't get it.

Anyway, I wasn't sure about the results the day of... she straightened it using just the hair dryer and a brush (yes, they have straighteners here... this is also the home of magic straight... or was that Japan?). But, I've found on most days it looks pretty decent without even blow drying it. Actually, the photo above that I just took a few minutes ago doesn't really do it justice... some days it looks really pretty good... especially the bangs. I'm satisfied. And I only paid 10,000 won for it.

The dentist in Korea

There's really not much to tell here, but I figured somebody out there might be interested in the story...

My last cleaning was last July, right before I left for Korea. I like to get my teeth cleaned every 6 months, but I've been so lazy about it here that I forgot all about it. One of my co-workers was going to get her teeth cleaned, so I went with her to set up an appointment. We went to e-Smile dental clinic (치과) in Lemon Plaza (the same building where my hagwon is located) in Wangsimni. Though the receptionist/hygienist staff spoke extremely limited English, the dentist spoke excellent English. We made our appointments for the next day and left.

When I arrived for my appointment, all I had to do was show my Alien Registration Card. This card stores all the medical insurance data on it... there's no need to carry around another insurance card. They showed me right in, I was the only one in the office (it never looks busy there). They brought me in to the room to get my teeth cleaned (scailing, pronounced suh-ka-luh-ing: 스갈링 in Korean). Maybe this is the way all dental cleanings are going to go in the future, but I know we don't have this at home; the cleaning mostly consisted of blasting a tiny stream of water on my teeth. They hardly used the picks at all, which I'm used to at home. While they performed the water blasting, they covered my entire face with some cloth face mask to keep me dry. It also had the added bonus of not having that blinding light in my eyes.

They didn't do any X-rays, so I guess that isn't standard procedure during a typical scailing in Korea. I know that they must do X-rays if you request/ if it's necessary, because they had some up on the computer screen from the last patient.

I thought maybe without the X-ray, they might not be able to find any cavities. They didn't say anything about cavities, which sort of surprised me because last time I went 9 months without a cleaning and I had 4 surface cavities and a cavity so deep that I almost needed a root canal. But I had dragged my boyfriend with me too, and, without the X-ray they found several cavities in his mouth. So... I guess I'm good for the next 6 months!

Oh, and I almost forgot. Because I work in the same building, they gave me a free fluoride treatment, service (uh). I know that used to cost $25 at my old dentist's office, so that's a good deal. Not to mention that they knocked 10,000 won off the price because I work in the building too. The whole deal only cost me 40,000 won ($32 with today's exchange rate). Quite a good deal, I'd say. I guess that even 50,000 won is pretty cheap by Korean standards. Most dental clinics charge 60-70,000 for a scailing (cleaning). So, if you are looking for a good clinic, check out my dentist. You can e-mail me for directions.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Small successes....

Now that I've been going to Metro Korean Academy 8 hours/ week for a month and a half, I have definitely seen some improvements with my Korean skills.

A new teacher at my school is trying to find a good dance class to attend. Since I used to go to my hip-hop and belly dance class in Sangwangsimni (I quit because of Korean class), I took her by the studio to get some info. It was always a bit of a struggle to communicate over there, and communication usually took the form of a mix of Korean and English.. me speaking Korean, and the manager speaking English, since my comprehension skills were atrocious. This time, a different manager took us into the office to explain the classes to my co-worker. I'm so used to people just speaking English to me, but because I started out speaking Korean, she didn't try to speak any English. Somehow, I managed to translate all the important points... and I understood at least 60% of what was going on. A huge improvement on my usual 10-20%. I was able to communicate all the questions that she had for the manager. I felt that my Korean sucked while I was talking, but when I realized at the end, that I hadn't spoken any English.... that was quite an accomplishment. I was always frustrated that people always spoke English to me... but maybe as my Korean gets better people will realize that they can speak to me in Korean, and I will... at least get the gist of what they are saying.

Another small success was the dentist. While the dentist is perfectly fluent in English, all her staff are quite nervous about saying anything more than "thank you" and "sign, please". The first time I went in they jumped up and got the dentist before I even got a chance to speak, but I had to go in and reschedule and I didn't let them jump up this time. I just simply asked them if I could do my cleaning tomorrow at 5:30.... not hard (the word for cleaning in Korean is suh-kail-ring... like scailing). They seemed a bit relieved... but my Korean is still shaky and I couldn't get the times out right... I said 7 o'clock when I meant 5 o'clock.. fortunately I was holding up my hand to say 5... so they asked me again if I wanted to come at 7. Then the next day I dragged my boyfriend to get his teeth cleaned since it had been a while for him too. I went in and asked, in Korean, if it was ok if my boyfriend could make an appointment too. They told me in Korean to arrive together. Easy as pie....

The other funny story about that was that though my boyfriend is Korean, when other Koreans see me with him, they're not quite sure what nationality he is... he doesn't have the stereotypical Korean stature and face structure. When he walked into the dental clinic (I was already getting my teeth cleaned by the time he came) they got that same nervous look on their faces, since they figured he must be my boyfriend. Then he started talking, and they all breathed a sigh of relief. hahaha

Today I went to the bank, but this wasn't quite as successful as I would have liked. Because I was speaking Korean to them, they were speaking Korean back to me, but I don't have much of a bank vocabulary. I texted to my boyfriend frantically asking the word for remittance (송금하다). I was able to figure out when they needed to see my passport, but I had no idea for the word for ID card. Then evidently the bank clerk was trying to point out some thing strange about my ID card... someone made a mistake... but, I had no idea... he tried in English... but he couldn't get it out in English either. Guess it wasn't important.

Well... anway... I'll keep working.... I probably need to study more... but when exactly do I have the time to do that???

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Field trip to National Museum of Contemparary Art

Thursday we went on a field trip to the Contemporary Art Museum. It was nice not to teach for a day, and I'm starting to have a little more faith that my kids probably won't wonder off without me. We were chased all day by photographers and camera men hired by SLP to document the experience for the parents.

Here is lunch time. Almost every kid brought kimbab (rolls of rice in seaweed... .like sushi, but Korean style). They all had too much food and they were all sharing. Which is all well and good until you get a two page letter then next day accusing the teacher of not taking care of her child because he didn't eat his lunch and the mother assumes he had no lunch time.....

Kids enjoying art.

Min Gyu

Entryway into the museum.

The raw fish experience: 횟집

Note, these were not our fish.... but typical types of fish you can see.

Though the Japanese are known world wide for sashimi.. or raw fish, Koreans take it to a whole new level. In a typical 횟집 (회:raw fish 집: house ; pronounced hwei-chip) the first task customers must perform is the selection of the creature you want to eat... straight from the tank. The owner will probably have lots of suggestions and offers for you... for example, we were given one... creature free (service-uh). I chose to eat two different kinds of fish, because, though we were offered squid, I just couldn't go that far... I've eaten enough cooked squid in this country, I don't need it raw. Then we were escorted to our seats while they pulled out our creatures with a net and brought them to the kitchen. They were kind enough to let me watch as they prepared the fish.

After watching for a bit, we went back to our table to... ehm... enjoy the appetizers. The menu included prawns, some.... unidentifiable creatures from the tank... along with the typical Korean side dishes.

Then came our main dish. Our hwei, the raw fish. That was actually the best part of the meal. I do like raw fish, but unfortunately, my stomach reaches a stopping point after about 10 or 15 bites in... and just says no more. I felt bad, because it hwei is not a cheap meal... but I did my best. It's much cheaper out here by the ocean than in Seoul.

Raw fish

After that, came the fish stew, which was made from all the parts of the fish that aren't suitable for sashimi. I made it my job to pull out every last bone and strange thing before I would stick my spoon in. It was looking a bit bland, and my boyfriend asked... where's the spice?? Turns out they thought, because I was a foreigner, I wouldn't be able to handle the red stuff. After a few laughs, they brought over a plate of gochu powder (powder made from hot red peppers) and we had our spice back. The soup was ok, but like I said, I can only eat so much fish before my stomach quits on me.

Me with everything I took out of the fish stew

Anyway, for fish lovers, this is a must try. And, i
f you can go and eat it by the ocean, it will be much cheaper than eating it in Seoul.

Me by the ocean, near our 횟집

Friday, June 12, 2009

More sights of Gyeongju

I decided to collect the rest of my trip to Gyeongju into one last post. We went to so many places for such a short amount of time that it's really not worth making individual posts about each one.

After climbing Namsan for 5 hours, we went to Tumuli Park. Here is the resting place of 23 Silla kings. Traditional Korean tombs for royalty always look like small rounded hills. They did not bury their kings underground. The tomb was placed inside of a wooden box, which was then covered by a huge mound of stones, then a mound of clay, then quite a bit of dirt. In Tumuli Park, there was one tomb which had been excavated and opened to the public. Though the actual tomb was not visible, a replica of how it looked when they first excavated in available for viewing. There are also many replicas of the various artifacts found in the tomb.
Me, with tombs in the background

Replica of the king's burial chamber.

If you want to see the actual artifacts found in the excavated tombs, you can then make your way over to the Gyeongju National Museam. My guide book says admission is 1000 won, but my admission was free because for some reason the museum is free and open to the public for a while. First thing you see when you enter is the Emille Bell. On the English description of this bell, it just tells that it is an important bell and that it is one of the largest and most resonant bells made in Asia. Personally, it doesn't look all that huge, but the English description left out the most important thing about this bell, the reason why it is so well known. Legend has it that when this bell was first made, it was a very poor quality bell. Then, someone had a vision and realized how to make it better. They needed to put a child into the molten metal in order to make the bell more resonant. The child that they found was named Emille. Now, whenever the bell is rung, the sound makes the sound of the boy's name, Emille... emille... emille....

Emille Bell

Evidently they have tested the bell to see if the story is true, but no traces of a human could be found in the bell. It's a fun story anyway. And one I've never seen on any English description. It's quite nice having someone around to translate and explain these things...

There were quite a few galleries to see inside the museum, but the one we enjoyed the most was the Buddhist art gallery.

Inside the Buddhist Gallery

Anapji Pond at night

After leaving the museum, we made a quick stop by Anapji Pond. This is the location of a pleasure garden constructed in 674. The pond here was actually completely man made. All the buildings burned in 935, so all that remains are the foundation stones (kind of a common theme in this city) and the pond which was restored in 1975. But, it's beautiful to see at night. They really know how to work the lighting just right.


Sunday morning, we made a quick stop by Cheomseongdae. This is the oldest astrological observitory in Asia, so I guess it's worth seeing. Frankly, there's not much to do there, besides get the photo, so I wouldn't make this a priority on a trip if there are other things you want to see more than this. It's located in Wolseong Park, wich is another park with Kings tombs. Entrance to the park is free, but there's not much to see...


Quite a far distance away, we found ourselves at Gameunsa. This is the remains of another temple where two pagodas still stand.

Sea tomb behind me...

Lastly, we checked out the Sea Tomb of King Munmu. There's not much to see here from the shore, but you're not allowed to go out to the rocks where the tomb is. It's the world's only underwater tomb. The king wanted to be buried at see so that his spirit could become a dragon to protect the country. His ashes were spread here. No one knows if the rock in the center of the islets is actually the tomb or not and people speculate that it is just a legend.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Temples of Gyeongju

The first temple we visited was Bulguksa, which is a very large temple a little far away from the downtown area where most of the big tourist sites are. This temple was founded in 751 AD during the reign of King Geyongdeok of the Silla kingdom. Much of the temple was destroyed during a Japanese invasion in 1593, because the temple was being used as a stronghold for Korean soldiers defending the area. Many artifacts remain though, and for this reason the temple is on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. Some important features to see are the stone stairs (see above). These stairs are now closed for preservation, but one of the staircases has 33 stairs to represent the 33 stages to enlightenment.

Two other important historical artifacts of the temple are two pagodas that survived the Japanese attack, plus all the years of wear and tear. The names of the two pagodas are Seokgatap and Dabotap. Dabotap is the more ornate of the two pagodas. At the time that I went, it was under construction, but this is probably the most famous pagoda in Korea. If you live in Korea, you see this pagoda everyday, but you probably never realized it. If you're curious to see this pagoda, take out your wallet. Dabotap is featured on the back of the 10 won coin. The other pagoda, Seokgatap, pictured above, is a more typical style of Korean pagoda but is quite famous in Korea. Evidently when the temple was reconstructed in the 1970's they found some old documents and relics inside.

Here's a common sight at a temple. Place a stone onto a stone pile and make a wish.

The next temple we visited was Golgusa. This temple is about 3 km away from Bulguksa, but is much less crowded because there are no public buses that go to this area. This temple is quite interesting to see because of the Buddha carved into the rock face quite high up on a cliff. After climbing many stairs, and possibly scaling some rocks, you can climb right up to it. We found a monk praying at the top, tapping the empty gourd as you always see in Buddhist temples during meditation. I wasn't paying attention to what he was chanting at first, but Sanghyun pointed out that he was actually reciting names and addresses of donors to the temple. I guess this is like at our Catholic masses when each mass is dedicated to one or two families that pay some extra money.
Here is the Buddha, carved into the stone. As you can see, it is now protected by this small roof.

Monk praying for all the temple worshipers.

The last temple we visited was Girimsa. Though it is a big temple, there isn't too much to see here. If you're feeling you've seen too many temples in this country, it's probably not worth your time. It's a bit out of the way and no buses go up that way. But, there were a few interesting things to see. Here are the photos.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Namsan in Gyeongju

Namsan is a mountain area just a 5 minute drive from downtown Gyeongju. Not only is is a beautiful place to hike, but it is scattered with hundreds of Buddhist remains from the Silla period. I did only a short hike, but I still managed to see a lot. For those with better endurance than I, much more can be seen. This is a must see in Namsan. Enjoy the photos!

Jump shot from a nice view point near the top.

The first of many small shrines we found along the way.

A beautiful Buddha that has been restored

The tallest Buddha around...

Small hermitage midway up the mountain. Though the monks weren't chanting while we were there, they still played the mantras over a loudspeaker and you could hear them within a 500 m radius or so...
Carvings on the wall
Buddhist worshiper. She was right behind us most of the way up the mountain.