Sunday, July 25, 2010

Leaving today!

I'm leaving today for Cambodia today. I may not have time to update while I'm in Cambodia, but I'll be sure to make lots of posts when I get home! Between me and the boyfriend, we have only two small backpacks between us. We're traveling light and doing laundry there. I think it's a brilliant idea. I'm not traveling with any girls this time, so there's no need to bring make-up or "going out clothes" so it's easy to pack really light. He's still criticizing me for all the little extra things I think of to bring though since he packed in about 10 minutes and I've been doing it little by little since Thursday night. I try to be like I guy, but I just can't ^^.

Enjoy your summer everyone!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Korean Signs You Should Recognize: Quiz!

I got the sudden inspiration to make a quiz about Korean signs. While living in Korea, you'll find that some signs are written in two languages, but many signs, especially off the beaten track, are only in Korean. These are some common signs you might see around that you may need to know (or not) and will definitely see around Korea. I took all these photos on my walk home from the subway station today.

Take the test: See how many of these you can recognize and translate. Some are easy to guess, others not so much. I've tried to put them in order from easiest to hardest, but it all depends on your personal experiences, of course. Record your results and check your answers in the key posted in the comments page. If people like this, I'll make another quiz with more signs!

1: 호프

2: 모텔

3: 노래방


5: 부동산

6: 주차금지

7: 주차장

8: 보신탕

9: 미용실

10: 세탁

How did you do? Check the answers in the comments!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Namyangju Studios

So I took a little trip to Panmujeom this weekend and got a nice picture of myself in front of the North Korean building known Panmungak. The North Koreans were really nice about it and even offered to take this picture for me...

Ok, ok, I didn't go to the DMZ, I went to Namyangju Studios, a museum/ working studio for Korean films. I was inspired to go to this place when Foreigner Joy went a month ago. It is really close to the boyfriend's grandmother's house, so I really had no excuse not to go.

The JSA (Panmunjom) set was really cool. If it weren't for the cutouts of soldiers to take pictures with, it would have felt pretty real. I even felt the slightest knot in my stomach when I crossed the "military demarcation line" and went to explore the "North Korean" Side.

After the Panmunjeom set, we wandered around the three other outdoor sets. Some were more interesting than others, and the other three were all sets used in historical movies, therefore all a little reminiscent of going to any hanok or folk village. But, the cool part about coming here, though, was the fact that anything laying about is fair game to play with. You can go into any of the houses too, not just look from a distance.

The boyfriend here is torturing himself with an ancient torture technique known as 주리(churi). Churi was used to force criminals into confession to their crimes. Basically, you just twist the legs until they snap.

This bow and arrow actually worked. The boyfriend shot it into a wall, hoping it would bounce off. Of course, these are movie sets not made of sturdy materials. It went straight into the wall and got stuck there. But, shhh, don't tell anyone..

After the outdoor part, we decided to go to the indoor part for a bit and walk around. It was mildly interesting, though most of the signage was in Korean. I was feeling a bit sick from the heat too, so we didn't spend a long time here.

If you want to check this place out, it's possible by subway. If you take the Jungang Line to Ungilsan Station (운길산역), you can take a free shuttle bus to the studios. Here is the schedule I copied from their website.

Ungilsan Station --> Studio
운길산 역 → 촬영소 (촬영소 출발시간과 소요시간 10분)
08:45열차도착 (08:50출발), 11:13열차도착 (11:25출발), 13:13열차도착 (13:25출발), 14:12열차도
착 (14:25출발), 15:12열차도착 (15:25출발), 16:13열차도착(16:25출발)

Studio --> Ungilsan Station
촬영소 오픈세트 종합안내실 앞 → 운길산 역
(소요시간 10분)
11:00(오픈출발), 13:00(오픈출발), 14:00(오픈출발), 15:00(오픈출발), 16:00(오픈출발), 18:20(오픈출발)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Chinese Tourist Visa Rules in Korea?

Does anyone know anything about this? My friend wants to go to China, but evidently you can't get a Chinese tourist visa if your ARC (not passport) is valid for less than 6 months from the Chinese embassy in Korea.

There is this thread going on at this Chinese tourism agency website. Since this new law is new, has anyone else experienced problems with this? Is there any way around it?

I'm also interested, because I'd love to go back to China for another visit. It's so close, it'd be a shame if I didn't go again. But, here I am around the 6 month mark on my visa already. And if I get an extension, it probably won't be for more than another 6 months.

What benefit does China get out of barring such a large amount of tourists from their country? Why do I have to leave my country of residence to get a visa (besides an E-2 visa, but that's another story). Can someone explain this to me?

It doesn't seem to be a problem in any other country, so why all of a sudden is it a problem in Korea???

Monday, July 19, 2010

Did you eat your samgyetang today?

As the Seoul Patch already pointed out before me (grumble), today is the start of 복날, boknal, or the hottest days of summer. I'm surprised that this is my third summer in Seoul and I only just learned about this "holiday" a few months ago.

Basically, from what I can figure, today is 초복, the first day of this annual stretch determined by the lunar calendar. In 10 days we'll have 중복, and in another 10 days after that is 말복.

On these days restaurants that serve samgyetang and (to a certain extent) boshintang are filled to capacity. Koreans believe that eating hot, healthy soups on these days are the best remedy to beat the heat. What's the reasoning? Well, basically, we should be eating hot things to bring on the sweat which then leads the body to cool down. And why particularly samgyetang and boshintang? Well, samgyetang is a chicken soup filled with garlic and ginseng. Everyone has probably heard of the supposed health benefits to ginseng. So, boost energy and sweat out the heat together. What about boshintang? Boshintang is dog meat soup. There are many supposed health benefits to eating dog, the main one of which is virility and stamina in men. So, lest you feel tired, go eat some dog. It might perk you up a bit.

Now, myself, I had a big steaming bowl of ramyeon for lunch today. No, there's no health benefits to eating this (especially with a big slice of processed cheese on top) but you'd think, according to this principal of fighting heat with heat, eating a big bowl of steaming hot ramyeon should cool me right down, right? Well, I'm sorry to say that it had the opposite effect on me. Before eating it I was feeling more or less comfortable, but after eating it, I was in a pool of sweat for the rest of the day. Not so comfortable, or cool, especially when air conditioners are not working the way they should be practically everywhere I go.

I did have some school provided samgyetang for dinner a la preschooler's leftovers in the kitchen. It was pretty darn good, but I wouldn't call it cool and refreshing.

Personally, I'd take some patbingsu over steaming hot bowls of soup anytime. :-)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

장마철: Rainy Season

장마철 (jang-ma-cheol) is the Korean word for rainy season. 장마 meaning rainy and 철 meaning season. According to Wikipedia, the Korean rainy season runs from the end of June through the end of July. Other websites suggest July through mid-August for rainy season. The official start date this year, though, according to Korea's official tourism website was June 26th.

I mention this today, Friday, because it's incredibly rainy outside. It's been raining steadily with varying intensity from strong to "Holy cow I didn't know it could rain that hard!" all day long. It's enough to keep me in tonight, and I suspect many other folks are feeling the same way...

If you happen to be in Korea during the 장마철 one quickly learns to keep a compact umbrella in one's purse, backpack or man bag (whatever your choice of accessories may be) at all times. Even if you leave your house in the morning and it looks sunny, the weather may change by the end of the day leaving you with a very rainy walk home. Fortunately, most convenience stores have capitalized on 장마철 and, conveniently, always have a wide selection of umbrellas available for sale. Often leaving those who aren't wise enough to bring umbrellas out at all times with a rather unusually large collection of umbrellas to dispose of upon leaving the country.

장마철 also makes Korean summers unbarably humid at times. While the temperature may only be in the 80˚ range, the incredibly high humidity makes one sweat without leaving one's chair. While I never owned an air conditioner in my life back in the states, I find it to be the only relief I can get on those days where I'm breaking a sweat just by typing at my computer. In my new apartment, I try not to use the AC often, and I feel that this summer has been cooler than previous summers (though, that could just be the situation of my new apartment, 3rd floor brick building with very little direct sunlight). But... it's still pretty hot.

Anyway, if you're planning on traveling in Korea, I would recommend avoiding this summer period. These rains can put a real damper on outdoor travel plans. For the rest of us stuck here for the summer, well, never leave home without your trusty umbrella and practice the following Korean 장마철 words.

Useful 장마철 vocabulary

비 (bi)- rain
비오다 (bi-oh-da) To rain --> 비와요 (bi wayo) It rains/ it's raining
비가 올것 같아요 ( biga- ol-kot-kat-ah-yo) - It looks like it may rain
우산 (oo-san) - Umbrella
태풍 (teh-poong)- Typhoon
홍수 (hongsu)- Flood

Friday, July 16, 2010

Happy Anniversary to Me

I just looked at the date and realized that today is my 2nd anniversary of coming to Korea. I came to Korea on this date in 2008. While I haven't technically been here a full two years, since I went home for two months last winter, I still tell people it's been two years... I just count that as an extended vacation more than anything else.

What have I accomplished in 2 years? Here's my list:
  • Completed through level 3 of Korean studies, aka, I'm in the middle of the intermediate level.
  • Eaten dog, live octopus, poisonous blowfish, silkworm larvae and penis fish (not sure what it's actually called, but if you've seen them you know exactly what I'm talking about) among many other strange foods.
  • Dated my boyfriend for over a year.
  • Visited nearly every tourist attraction in Seoul.
  • Traveled to Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Beijing, Bali, and Japan twice. I'll be adding Cambodia to that list in less than 2 weeks (yikes!).
  • Worked at two different branches of the hagwon SLP.
  • And as of next week, will have completely finished paying off my student loan debt!! (started at $21,000USD when I graduated in 2007)
I feel as though I've accomplished a lot in two short years. I only really have three goals for my next year (maybe last year?) in Korea. Those goals are:
  • Pass the level 4 Korean test (no easy feat)
  • Save $10,000 for Graduate school
  • Travel more. (top on the list are Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Shanghai and Kyoto)
The first two of these goals are a bit loftier than they sound. While I've completed all the level 3 courses, it doesn't mean I learned everything I could/should have at those levels. And level 4 tends to be super heavy on the vocab, which is my weak point.

As far as $10,000 goes, that's also gonna be a hard one. In my last 6 months of working, I saved 6,000,000 won, and when I sent home 5,300,000 won, it was only about $4,300 USD. And 2,300 of that will go to my loan. Which leaves me with only about 2,000 saved for 6 months of working. In order for me to save more money, it would mean quitting my traveling and Korean classes, which I'm not really willing to do....

Once I'm finished with my contract at the end of January, I'm going to be looking for either a 6 month contract or some kind of part-time job that will extend my visa. If not, then I'll have to either get a student visa or a tourist visa, but I'm hoping it won't boil down to anything that extreme.

I'm hoping to go back to grad school in the fall of 2011 if all goes according to plan to get my masters in teaching English as a second language.

P.S. Just as a blast from the past, here's a post from my 1 year anniversary.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Saturday Night Makkoli Adventures

Our first stop for the night was our favorite makkoli place near Sookmyung Women's University Station. I got my usual sal makkoli, but some friends ordered a new menu item, Fruit Makkoli. I was skeptical, so I didn't order it, but it turned out to be quite tasty. Though, it didn't really taste much like makkoli, more like a smoothie, but anyway, it was a nice tasting makkoli smoothie.

And served in a wine glass no less...

Next stop was a more traditional makkoli house where our makkoli was served in a kettle and poured into bowls, rather than glasses.

And of course we ordered some pajeon to go with it... it wouldn't really be makkoli without some sort of jeon...

Stop three was a tiny little shop run by a hunchbacked ajumma. We've always been tempted by the cheap prices of jeon (Korean-style pancakes) in the window, but we've never venured our way in until this night. As you can see here, we ordered a plate of a little bit of everything, hobakjeon, some kind of meat jeon, hot peppers, and some other unidentifiable things. Anyway, the jeon was good here, but the makkoli on the other hand was completely flat and we didn't stay long.

After that we headed to a new convinience store in our area to drink more makkoli on their nice new patio seating area. The story didn't go so well from there, so I'll leave it at that and with a warning that makkoli is great in relatively small quantities, but can lead to rather unpleasant results in large quantities... just like any alcohol I guess... :-)

Happy drinking...

Monday, July 12, 2010

세미원: Semiwon, Lotus Park in Yangsuri

It's not every day that you can see tremendous gardens full of beautiful lotus flowers, but if you make your way out to Yangsu Station on the Jungang Line, you'll be able to all that and more. The entrance price for the park is 3,000 won which seems high to get into a park, but when you leave, you can get free ice cream or fresh produce with your ticket, so its definitely worth it.

I don't really need to give much explaination here, the photos say enough. It's a beautiful park and I suggest people find the time to make it out of Seoul to check it out. It's about 50 minutes from Wangsimni station. I don't recommend that people with cars drive out here, traffic on the weekends tends to be atrocious on a good day and just plain not moving on a bad day, like today. This would also be a nice place for a picnic too, lots of open grassy spaces which are not too common in Seoul!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Han River at Night

Friday night I went down to the Han Riverfront near Ttukseom Resort station and walked for a bit. I've never been down to the riverfront at night, so it was nice to see everything lit up. The wonderful thing about Seoul is that it's a city that never sleeps, and people are always out finding interesting places to hang out at all hours of the day and night. Here it was 10 o'clock at night and it seems like the riverfront was just getting started for the night. People come with beers and boxes of fried chicken to chill out with friends and relax. Ajumas and ajosshis are out with mats to cover the ground while they relax with their spouse or friends. Guys have fishing rods with little lights attached to the bait, trying their hardest to catch a fish... although, I wouldn't eat a fish that came out of this river, personally.

One of my favorite things about the night scenery in Seoul are the bridges. This bridge looks so beautiful lit up with green and gold. Someday, though, I need to get some pictures of the water bridge, which is a crazy bridge that's lit up like a rainbow and shoots water at certain intervals. Even the riding the bridge itself feels like you're swimming, as they constructed it to feel as though you're moving in waves.

Some folks were shooting off fireworks. So pretty at night!

This boat is used as a reception hall for weddings and other events. But, it seems that when there's no wedding going on, they have it open as a chicken and beer HOF. You can also rent duck boats here to paddle around the hangang too. But, at 13,000 won for 30 minutes, it was a bit pricey for us.
Here you can see Olympic Stadium in Jamsil. It's design is pretty unmistakable.

I highly recommend taking a walk along the Hangang at some point, night or day. There's always some interesting sights and even late at night you'll never feel unsafe.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Water Quality

Have you received a brochure like this in your mailbox recently? If so, you can expect a visit from the friendly water inspection folks in the near future.

I had no idea what this pamphlet was, and never bothered to ask the boyfriend, so when two women with name tags showed up at my door, I thought they must be Jehovah's Witnesses. Of course, when they saw me, and not a Korean, they were a bit startled too and fumbled to pull out a smart phone with an English language demo of what they were going to be doing. One woman actually had the sense to ask me if I spoke Korean, and then tried her best to explain what they were doing. I didn't get much out of it, but I knew it was something to do with the sink and water so I let them in. They spotted this pamphlet sitting on top of my microwave and excitingly started pointing to it and trying to show me... but... alas, it was all in Korean with almost no pictures beyond the friendly looking water droplet on the cover and happy people drinking water.

By this time the other woman had the smart phone ready for me to listen to an explaination of what they were checking. While I listened, they checked the water. When they were finished, they gave me this report. I was curious, so I looked up in the dictionary what they checked... since water quality used to be my specialty back in my Environmental Science days.

잔류염소- chlorine
pH- pH (that was a big mystery)
철- iron
구리- copper

I tried to translate the stuff at the bottom, but Google translate is failing me at the moment and my human dictionary is at work at the moment.

Everything was well within range, as expected. It's not surprising that they're only testing inorganic things here, but I'd be interested in how much organic material I'm consuming in the water here. Pesticides and other runoff that makes their way into the Han River probably aren't good for me either. Of course, tests for those sorts of things are I would imagine more expencive and less portable.

In any case, I feel confident enough about drinking the water here, though I generally stick with bottled water anyway.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cambodia Update!

I'm leaving for Cambodia on July 25th. This morning I just booked a hotel in Phnom Penh and in Siem Riep. The hotel in Siem Riep looks amazing and beautiful, and for $8.00 per night and great reviews, I don't think I can be disappointed. The hotel in Phnom Penh is a little more than I wanted to pay per night, $25 per night for the room, so about $12.50 per night, which sounds cheap, but most places are much cheaper. From the pictures, it doesn't look very special, but it has great reviews, a good location and no reviews about bedbugs, rats, cockroaches, theives or pushy staff. It has taken me this long to book a room because every time I find a hotel I think I want to stay at, I find a review or two about one of those problems. Yes, I know I'm going to a third world country and I know I may have to rough it a little, but I don't see the point of putting myself unnecessarily in an uncomfortable position. Our third stop on our trip will be Battambang, a city west of Siem Riep. We've decided not to make any reservations there and wing the rest of the trip after 3 days in Siem Riep.

I'm so excited about this trip. It's only 18 days away! Expect lots of Cambodian updates in August when I return!

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Poll.. just for the heck of it...

So, you may notice to the right hand side of your screen, I have added a quick poll about life in Korea. It's pointless and meaningless, but I thought it might be fun. So, if you like, give your mouse clicking finger a little extra exercise and vote for the best part about living in Korea! Poll closes in 15 days, I'm interested to see the results. :-)

Movie Review 포화속으로: 71- Into the Fire

Yup, two movie reviews in one weekend. Amazing, huh? Tonight I went to Myongdong CGV to see 포화속으로, or 71- Into the Fire. This is a movie that takes place during the Korean War. It is fitting that this movie has come out this summer because June 25, 2010 was the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

The movie is the true story of 71 "student soldiers" who were recruited and, without training, were put on guard as human sheilds to protect the city of Pohang in the south of Korea while all the trained soldiers were sent to the front lines. The movie is a grave reminder of how desperate the South was for troops at the time. High school students had to be recruited to fight against the North who was rapidly advancing towards Busan.

This movie was certainly entertaining, but it had a certain Holywood feel to it. Things were over dramatized and the final battle scene didn't feel realistic at all. What these 71 boys did in real life, was pretty amazing. They actually held of advancing North Korean troops for 11 hours before reinforcements came. During the credits, they actually had short interviews with two survivors of the battle, which is known as the Battle of Pohang Girl's Middle School, because they held off the North Korean soldiers from the inside of the school. I don't feel, though, that the movie did much justice to the actual event.

Anyway, do I recommend it? Sure, it was fun to watch, and an interesting war movie. Just, be sure you go in knowing that it's Hollywood drama here.

You can still catch this movie showing at CGV in Myeongdong or Yongsan with English subtitles, but go soon, because I don't know for how much longer.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Facebook and Twitter Buttons Added

Today I got into my HTML editor and figured out how to get these new facebook and twitter buttons added. I'm not really sure how attractive they look right there, but I'm not good enough with javascript and so forth to actually try to attempt to fix it. Any suggestions? Does it look OK?

I also started a twitter account... but since I don't have internet on my phone, I don't see how it's any different than facebook status updates... Would anyone be interested if I kept up a twitter account and linked to it here??

Korean Movie Review: 마더: Mother

Last night, too sick to go out, I decided to watch a DVD I picked up a while ago called Mother. I had meant to see this when it was in theaters last year, but never got around to it. I recall that it was top in the box office for a while.

The movie revolves around the mother of a young man who is a bit slow. The son is accused of a murder and tricked into signing a confession, though he does not recall committing the crime. The mother makes it her personal mission to discover the truth and have her son's name cleared.

I really enjoyed this movie. There were many unexpected plot twists and I thought the ending was surprising, yet perfectly fitting for the movie. I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys thrillers, or anyone looking for a good taste of Korean culture. I think this is an excellent movie, and a fair representation of small town life in South Korea.

incidentally, I just organized all my movie posts into one category here, if you're interested in reading more about movies I've seen in Korea.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

New Korean School

I've faithfully attended Metro Korean Academy in Gwanghwamun since last may, but this month will be the first month that I do not attend that school. Their summer vacation and my summer vacation don't match up, and on top of that, starting on July 21st, I have to start teaching morning classes, so with those two factors combined, not to mention the lack of a good level for me for a Saturday classes, I decided to hunt for a better suiting school. I found two hagwons, YBM, which my friend attends, and Korean Language Academy (KLA). Both have locations in Jongno and Kangnam. I first emailed KLA about classes, and they got back pretty quickly that they had a level 3 class and a level 4 class on Saturday in Gangnam, either of which I could attend. But, they had no classes that were suitable for me in Jongno. Not really looking forward to hauling my butt to Gangnam every Saturday morning for 10:00 class, I put my hopes in YBM. But, strangely, they must not like buisness, because they don't answer their emails. And I don't like phones, so it just wasn't going to work out.

So, this morning, sick with a cold and running on about 3 hours of sleep, I dragged my butt down to Gangnam. The map from the website was a little funky and it took me longer than I expected to find the place. I got there a bit late to take the entire placement test, not that it really mattered, and I went first to observe level 3. The teacher was ok, a bit soft-spoken, and not much in the conversation department which is what made me upset in my last month at Metro, but with only 3 hours a week I guess it's got to be all study and no play since there's not so much time.

I went to level 4 hoping to find some more conversation. I did find level 4 to be more vibrant, but I also realized that, even if the other student's grammar and speaking skills weren't much better than mine, their vocabulary was far higher than mine. I mean... FAR higher than mine. The teacher was defining words with other words that I didn't know, and the other students were nodding their heads in agreement, seeming to understand everything. As much as I would have loved to join that class, I would have spent the entire 3 hours in a dictionary and not looking at the teacher. I guess that's what happens when it's a class entirely comprised of 3 Japanese guys and one Chinese woman. They just have way more of an advantage in that department. It'd be like sticking a Korean in an advanced Spanish class full of English and French speakers. Unfair advantage to say the least.

For the last hour, I bought my book and settled down in level 3. My head was starting to clear from the fog a bit and I participated a little in class. The grammar was quite easy, but it's good practice and the book seems to have lots of vocabulary I should be practicing. I think I'm just going to start from Chapter 1 every day on the way to work, even though our class is studying from chapter 20 as of next week. Getting a new book means all sorts of different vocabulary and new explanations and exercises of grammar than I should be practicing and using more in my every day speech.

So, after this month, I'll be able to give you a better analysis of Korean Language Academy. My teacher will also be changing this week, I guess she got married this weekend (or was it that she went to a wedding? Now I forget) and was, obviously, not able to teach class.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Smorgasbord of Strange Meats (and a cake)

Last night we visited 서래, a Korean Barbecue Restaurant (and I don't mean bulgogi) near Sindang Station. I was hoping for some delicious galbi, but unfortunately I let the boyfriend order. He ordered the 모듬 or a little of everything dish. As with most meat houses like this, the meat is served raw (see photo above) and you cook it yourself on your own personal grill.

Here we have some 갈매기살, 항정살, and 돼지껍데기 ( pig skin). Neither of us were a big fan of the pig skin the flat one, though when dipped in a soybean flour and gochjang, it was palatable.

Not shown here was the intestines, which, believe it or not, I did manage to try. One, very small bite, but I still tried it. It was very chewy, and a bit burnt, but that's all I can tell you about that.

After dinner, we brought a cake over to our friend's house, since yesterday was her birthday. This is a cheese cake from Paris Baguette. While it's not quite like an American style cheese cake, I've grown to like this kind of cheese cake as much as an American style cheese cake. I don't think I'll ever love this more than an American cheese cake though. Korean cheese cakes tend to be more cakey and less cheesy. It's probably healthier too though...