Friday, January 30, 2009

A post in reply to Megan's question:

Here's Bruce Lee for you. I didn't see any handprint though.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Indian Food in Seoul

I have about 10 more posts I want to make about Hong Kong, but I couldn't miss this opportunity to blog about the Indian cuisine in Seoul.

Now, I have to say, non-Korean food in Korea is pretty bad. It's a good thing I love Korean food, so this is never much of a problem. Corn is standard on pizza, it's not considered a topping. Food with the word "cheese" in it usually means a slab of Kraft style processed cheese on top of your food (which unfortunately I've come to enjoy) and don't get me started on the restaurant called Han's Deli, which by the way, is in no way, shape or form, anything like a deli. Koreans cook Korean food very well, but they should stick to that.

But, when you can find a foreign food restaurant that is actually owned and run by someone other than a Korean, you actually have a chance of finding some decent food. There are at least two amazing (and I mean amazing) Indian/Nepali food restaurants in this city, and both are within a 30 min walk or less from my house. The first, where I usually frequent, is called Everest. The second, which I just discovered tonight and inspired me to write this blog, is called Namaste.

Everest is located a minute walk from Dongdaemun station on line 4 and 1. Go out exit 3 (I think) and go up the first alley on the left by the pharmacy (약국). Take the first right, and it's on the second floor of the building straight ahead. I highly recommend the mali kofta, but everything that I've tried is amazing. Click here for their website.

Namaste is located right outside Dongmyo station on line 6 and line 1. Go out exit 5 and it's on the second floor of the building immediately to the left. Everything we tried was great there, but after only being there once, I don't want to make any particular recommendations, but I will tell you that I tried the Dhaniya Adraki Chicken and I was impressed. This restaurant has a great atmosphere. I love the decor. Click here for their website. I guess they have a second, smaller location in Jogno by Bandi and Luni's, but the menu is slightly different. I can't rate the quality of that location, but I'm sure it's worth a try.

Victoria Peak

The Peak is a view point of the city from atop one of the high peaks on Hong Kong Island. To get to the top, you can take the Peak Tram, which is a rather expencive, but quite entertaining form of transportation. It is essentially a trolley that goes straight up the side of the mountain. It sort of has a roller coaster feel to it. The tram will take you up to the top of the peak and into a huge tourist complex. After passing many restaurants and stores, you can go up to the top deck to get a view of the Hong Kong sky line. There is a whole mall outside of the peak building, plus a walking path to get away from the hoardes of tourists.

Usually I stay away from shopping areas like this, because they tend to be way overpriced, but I did find myself a cute little ox for only $80 HKD. (aprox. $12 USD) . I usually hate knicknacks like this, but I am the year of the ox, and I was in Hong Kong for the year of the ox, so I thought I needed a little ox to comemorate the experience. Surprisingly, we were able to bargain in this store. The original price was $98, but my friend said $80 and the shopkeeper accepted the price.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Avenue of Stars and a view of Hong Kong Island

One of our first stops in Hong Kong was to see the 8:00 pm light show from the Avenue of Stars. When we stepped out of the building onto the boardwalk and I was completely overwhelmed by the view. It was by far the most amazing cityscape I've ever seen in my life. All the tall skyscrapers, belonging to companies from all over the world, line the harbor on Hong Kong island. The light show is a combination of strobe lights and sparkling lights on the buildings on the island that are coordinated with music. It was interesting to see, but I think the actual view of the harbor at night was much more amazing than any flashing lights.

We watched the light show from the Avenue of Stars. This a walkway along the harbor in Kowloon where many famous Chinese movie stars have thier names in the sidewalk, and many have thier hand prints. We first went that first night, but we decided we had to go back durring the day so that we could get our photos with the stars.

Here's me with Jet Li's handprint.

Here's me with Jackie Chan's handprint. He used to be one of my heroes when I was younger. I still love Jackie Chan movies! This was so exciting!

Here's a view of the harbor durring the daytime. The small building is the convention center.

Hong Kong For Lunar New Year!

So I just returned from Hong Kong and all the festivities for Lunar (Chinese) New Year there. I'll go into details for individual things later, but before I go to bed, I just wanted to give an overview of the things I did and saw.

We flew out of Seoul at 10:30am Saturday morning, in the middle of the biggest snow storm I've seen here. Granted, we haven't got much snow at all this year. I think there may have been an inch on the ground. Nothing an airport can't deal with. But, we did have to sit on the runway for almost an hour for de-icing. We arrived in Hong Kong late, but we got through customs quickly and found our airport bus to our hotel quickly.

We stayed in Kowloon, near Tsim Sha Tsui metro station, on Nathan Road. Because my friends and I reserved our hotels at different times, we wound up staying in two separate guesthouses, but fortunately they were across the street from one another. This area has many guest houses that sport the cheapest prices in the city. Unfortunately, in Hong Kong, you really do get what you pay for. Here in Korea, you can pay 20,000 won and get a decent love motel for the night, but in Hong Kong, you can pay the equivalent of $20 USD and get a closet sized bathroom that may or may not have a drain for the shower. Our guesthouse fortunately had a drain on the floor, so while we stood over the toilet to shower, the water did go away. My friend's place evidently didn't even have a drain. They had to wash their hair over the sink. Not really sure how they washed their bodies... The beds were well used foam mattresses that sort of sank towards the side. Pillows were about the same quality. But, I haven't found any lice yet, and I didn't see any roaches, so besides a little discomfort (not that much really, I can sleep just about anywhere, as long as I can lay down and I have a blanket) it was a good deal. I certainly couldn't have afforded a nice hotel for 3 nights.

The two most famous guesthouse places in Kowloon are Mirador Mansion, where I stayed and Chungking Mansion which was a block away. These aren't really mansions by any definition that I know of, they are just some generic, rundown, city buildings. There are plenty of other places too around where we were, like Golden Crown Plaza where my friends stayed. I have a feeling they are all similar or worse quality. These places are often the homes of illegal immigrants moving to Hong Kong. We saw many Africans and Middle Eastern people around here. The Middle Eastern people were particularly annoying though, because they were constantly trying to sell either tailoring or watches, and they would pester you on the street trying to get you to follow them to buy their goods. Though, in comparison to the street vendors in Vietnam, I guess they weren't so bad.

Day 1 we met up after we settled in our rooms, and set out to wonder around. We went to Kowloon park, then found our way to the Avenue of Stars and watched the light show. More on that later. We walked around some more, then headed home, because we were exhausted from waking up so early for our flight.

Day 2 we ate DIM SUM! for breakfast, then took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island. We took the tram up to the Peak, ate and walked around a bit up there. Came back down and walked around, explored the elevated sidewalks and the longest covered escalator in the world, went around SoHo, found a microbrewery, remembered why I didn't like beer when I was younger, went home, changed, went back to SoHo to go out, had fun for a while, but in the end were rather disappointed by $7 beers and a lack of dancing (there was a wine bar that was playing salsa and Latin beats, but no one shared my enthusiasm for checking that place out...). We then headed back to Kowloon (the subways were open all night that night) then went to McDonald's for a midnight snack before heading home.

Day 3 we searched for a new dim sum restaurant, but everything seemed to be closed, so we settled for a classic hong kong style diner. Ate some yummy food headed to the cable car. The cable car took us to a giant Buddha and a giant tourist trap, but it was still fun. We headed back to our hotel, and met up at 7:00 for the parade. We just happened to be right in front of one of the three performance areas along the parade route, and we were entertained by an MC until the parade started at 8:00. The parade was great and we headed back to our hotels afterwards.

Day 4 we met at 11:00 and went back to the first dim sum restaurant that we ate at to eat again, since we knew where it was. We didn't have time to waste, and we needed some barbecue steamed pork buns stat. We then took the ferry over to Wai Chai to see the golden flower statue that was given as a gift to the city by the People's Republic of China when they were handed back the city from the British. We walked along the harbor, took a doubledecker tram (like a trolley) and then headed back to our hotel to pick up our bags and hop back on the airport bus. Everything else went as it should, and I was back in my room in Seoul by 11:00 pm. And now I'm here typing.

My overall view of Hong Kong? It's an amazing city. It sort of felt like what New York City with slightly more Chinese writing. It was a bit like Montreal in that the city is completely bilingual. We only found one person the whole time we were there that didn't speak English. It has the most beautiful cityscape I've ever seen. It was absolutely mesmerizing. Especially at night.

It was expensive in some respects. Eating prices were similar to home, but still cheaper, because there is no tipping (but a service charge is always added to the bill). Drinking was incredibly expensive, and supposedly we were in the cheaper part of town for that. I found the transportation to be quite reasonably priced. Fares are charged by distance, so if you're only going a few stops, you pay less than a US dollar, and if you go far, you might pay around $2 USD. Trams and buses were very inexpensive.

I found shopping to be expensive, but it's hard to judge, because the city is inundated with upscale shopping areas (think Coach, Burbury, Club Monaco, Dior, Yves Saint Laurant, etc etc etc.. ones I have never even heard of because they are so ridiculously far out of my price range.) So, for all I know, they could be cheaper than at home, but I would never spent $100 USD on a shirt at home, so why would I start in Hong Kong? I was pricing cameras too. I found one in Mong-kok for about $100 USD higher than the average price in the US, then I found one by Tsim Sha Tsui for about $100 USD less than the US price. I was too confused, I decided just to wait til I got back to Seoul.

My goals for HK posts:
Avenue of Stars/ light show
Chinese New Year Parade
Dim Sum
Random City Sights
Cable Car/ Big Buddha
The Peak

Friday, January 23, 2009

설날 : Lunar New Year

설날 (Seollal) is Korean for Lunar New Year. If you don't know what Lunar New Year is, you have probably heard of Chinese New Year, which is essentially the same thing. The traditional Asian calendar runs on a lunar cycle rather than a solar cycle like the modern calendar, so new year's day changes every year. This year it falls on January 26th, and next year it will fall on February 14th.

Koreans generally have a family celebration, probably at a grandparent's home. Traditions for Lunar New Year include wearing hanbok (see picture), bowing to elders and giving money to children. The game I learned at Korean class last Saturday, GoStop (hwat'u) is often played with family. Seoul is pretty dead I hear for Seollal, since so many people are with family, often outside of the city in their hometowns.

And what will I be doing for Seollal you ask?? I'm leaving the country again. Yea, I know I just got back from Vietnam, but I can't stand sitting around my apartment for 4 days with no work. So, I'm heading to the city that every Chinatown in the world models their Chinese New Year's celebrations off of. Where's that? Hong Kong! I'm heading out tomorrow morning early, and I'll be at my hotel (or shady guesthouse, whatever it is...) by 3:00 pm tomorrow. I'm going to see the annual parade, fireworks, some temples, and do some shopping... hopefully for a camera... since I've been talking about a camera for 2 months now. Leaning towards a DSLR now too.. dangerous...

I hope to come home with some amazing photos and stories. I won't be updating 'til I'm home I suspect. See you all soon! Enjoy your Lunar New Year and head to your local Chinatown and watch a parade and think of me.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The drama that has everyone watching....

Ask any of your female students what they were watching on tv monday and tuesday night, and I guarantee it was this drama. 꽃부다남자 That's pronounced gopuda namja. It's English title is Boys Before Flowers. My kids wrote the time to watch it on my hands and told me I had to watch it. I turned on my tv to KBS2 at 10:00 on tuesday and watched about 20 mins or so. Of course A) I was coming in half way through the season, so just like any drama, I had no idea what was going on, and B)... it was in Korean... so I had no idea what was going on. I had one of my students try to explain it for me today, though I'm still quite confused. Now that I've found this here on youtube... I'm assuming it's a fan sub... I'm going to try to watch it... though I've had a few obsessions this past week, so we'll see how much time I can devote to this when I'm hooked on my manga... (I'm reading Red River on maybe if I can get caught up in that series, then I can devote time to watching this.

Anyway, If you are interested, here is the first 10 minutes of the first episode (I hope it's the first episode). I have no idea if its worth watching, but if the opinion of every female student of mine can be trusted, it must be addicting. Also a great conversation point with your students.

by jangchris0101

(My appologies, the video I had posted before was not the first episode. This is the first episode.)

To watch more, go to

Dance Class Grooves

Here are this week and last week's hip hop dance songs. The routines are variations of the dances from the videos. I don't practice much, so I kind of suck, but most of the Koreans suck worse than me, so it's ok. Tonight, though, I went to Amber's apartment after dance and practiced for about another hour after class... hopefully the extra practice pays off.

This week's song: Gee by SNSD ( 소녀시대)

Last week's song: Strong Baby by Big Bang

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The whole world is watching.....

Here I am, in front of my TV (which is next to my computer), watching the inauguration of Barack Obama. I tried to watch on CNN/facebook, but for some reason my computer wouldn't allow it, so I'm watching MBC, the biggest news broadcaster here in Korea, and their live broadcast of the inauguration ceremony. I'm struggling to hear the English spoken under the Korean dubbing, but how can I complain? At least I can watch it. When they say that the whole world is watching, they are not exaggerating. Even my elementary school students know about Obama and ask me about him.

At one of the westerner's bars in Itaewon, there is a huge celebration going on right now, and many of the teachers at my school are there, though, they've probably gone home by now, they work much earlier than I do. As I watch now, Aretha Franklin has just taken stage to sing My County Tis Of Thee. Even from 11,000 miles away, I can feel the excitement. I can't even imagine what it would be like to be in DC at this moment.

We'll see how late I can manage to stay up, it's now 2 am, and it looks like this may go on for a while. I may wind up having to watch the rest when I wake up in the morning.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Seoul Museam of Art and The Changing Of The Guard

Saturday we made a quick stop by the Seoul Museum of Art. Well, I suppose we didn't mean for it to be a quick stop, but that's what happened... for me at least. We had a little trouble finding the museum. Usually by following the signs with the metro exits directs you perfectly to wherever you go. Unfortunately, not so much this time. The subway exit dropped us off about as far away as you can get from the museum and we had to find a map to figure out how to get there. Turns out you need to follow the wall of doksugung down a side street to get there.

Well, we made our way there and we were amazed that the entrance only cost 700 won (like aprox. $0.50 USD). But then we realized why. The main gallery where that 700 won entrance fee lets you into is very small. We walked though in about 1/2 an hour. The second and third floors, on the other hand, were hosting an exhibition of famous European artists. That entrance was 12,000 won. My friends wanted to go see that, but I decided that I'd rather go to Korean class, which was starting in about 45 mins. So I said good-bye to them and headed toward the metro. As I got closer to the entrance of Doksugung, I saw a procession of men dressed in colorful traditional clothes and realized that they must be having the changing of the guard ceremony

As I got closer to the entrance of Doksugung, I saw a procession of men dressed in colorful traditional clothes and realized that they must be having the changing of the guard ceremony. This is always fun to see, though, it can be a little slow. I had my camera with me and I was hoping I could get some good shots for my photo blog. I don't know though. The photos I take at these things never turn out how I want them to.

Anyway, I stood around and watched the whole 20 minute process, which, when it comes down to it, is pretty slow and there's not much to see. Then I headed to class where I learned to play GoStop. That's a pretty complicated game, but I'd like to play again and get better at it!

Amusing classroom moments

I'm going to try to list some of my more amusing classroom moments here. I have a terrible memory, so I think that many of my best moments have been lost forever, but let's see what I can come up with.

A story written by one of my smartest/most advanced students. A first grader.
Assignment: Write a story about 5 baby ducks.
There were 5 baby ducks. A giant octopus monster came and ate them. They swam in the octopus monster's stomach. Then the octopus monster hiccuped and they came back out.

A conversation with one of my 4 Jump High boys.
Kenny: Teacher, I have a question.
Me: Yes?
Kenny: If the America people are the white people, are we the orange people?

Then I forced them to listen to me ramble on about how there are many races in the world, and it's best not to call them by their colors, but by their names. They are Asians, we are Westerners. Doubt it sunk in though.

Another conversation with my 4 Jump High boys.
John: Teacher, two kids fucked in church.
Me: John! Don't say that. That's very bad to say. You don't know what that means.
John: Teacher, I know what that means.... wait. (He pulls out his electronic dictionary).... Teacher, that means sex. Ok, let's open our book to page 35.....

Another conversation with my 4 Jump High boys:
Kenny: I have a question for you teacher.
Me: Yes, Kenny?
Kenny: What does dead duck mean?
Me: It means... a dead duck...?
Billy: No, teacher! It's a bad word, what does it mean???
Me: No... pretty sure it just means dead duck.
John: Yes, you know what it means, what does it mean teacher, please tell us!
Me: I swear to you guys, it means dead duck.
Kenny: Teacher, you have a mission tonight. You need to ask all the teachers what dead duck means.
Me: Ok Kenny, I'll ask all the teachers what dead duck means.
(bell rings and we go to the hallway)
Me: Hey! Will! The boys have a question for you.
Will: What?
Boys: Teacher, what is dead duck?
Will: It's a dead duck.
Kenny: (To me) Teacher, ask all the other teachers, ok?
Me: Ok Kenny, I'll ask all the other teachers.
(Next day)
Billy: Teacher! Did you complete your mission?
Me: Yup. It means dead duck.

Another Conversation with my 4 Jump High boys:
Kenny: Teacher! You're an asshole!
Me: Kenny doesn't like stickers. (I erase one sticker)
Kenny: Aww, teacher! Why are you so unfair to me?

A conversation with my 3+4 grade Reach Out class:
Me: Teacher is so beautiful.
Michaella: Teacher is princess sick.

Another conversation with my 3+4th grade Reach Out class:
Michaella: Teacher is halmoni
Me: Excuse me!?
Michaella: Teacher is Ajumma
Amy: Teacher know ajumma?
Me: Yes, I know ajumma, and I am not an ajumma! and I am not a halmoni either. Teacher is an agassi!!!
Michaella: No, I think teacher is haraboji.

A conversation with my 4 + 5 grade Reach Out class.
Jin Sun, Hee Won and Hwa Youl: (talking in class in Korean) Blah blah blah Korean words blah blah
Me: Excuse me? What was that?
Jin Sun, Hee Won and Hwa Youl: (Exchange guilty looks)
Jin Sun: I say that teacher is... very beautiful.
Me: I know I am. :-D

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sleeping on the floor

The longer I stay here, the more I realize that things that would seem strange to folks at home seem normal to me. So, I'd like to start writing more about daily life things that are different (or not so different) from home. Today I think I'll write about sleeping on the floor.

No, I don't generally sleep on the floor, but it does happen from time to time. I have a normal, western style bed (though twin beds tend to be slightly wider, so western sheets don't quite fit right). When I get really cold, though, I sometimes decide to sleep on the floor. Why on the floor? Isn't the floor cold and drafty? No, quite the opposite. The other night I was so cold I slept on the floor, which is what inspired me to write this post.

Koreans, many, many generations ago, developed what is known as ondol heating. The heat comes from the floor. Traditionally, the heat was made by burning wood or biomass of some sort a few times a day to keep the floors warm, but today homes are built with water pipes that run under the floors to heat them.

Koreans are very proud of their heating system. I suppose in theory it does make more sense... with heat rising and all that physics. They haven't quite figured out why the rest of the world hasn't picked up on the wondrous invention. I can think of some good reasons. For monetary reasons, I can't see people refitting their entire house to run water pipes under every floor. It's just not practical. There was a similar idea that caught on for a while in the US called radiant heating, where the heat came from the floor, but was produced electrically instead of by hot water pipes (think of an electric blanket for your floor). This was a good idea in theory, but at one time my old apartment in Vermont had radiant heating, but it was removed because it was causing the tenants to receive exorbitant electric bills in the winter. My electric bill already seemed expensive to me since we had electric hot water heating, I can't imagine what it was like with radiant heating.

Another reason why I don't think ondol heating has caught on in western cultures is the fact that we (westerners) don't spend much time on the floor. In traditional Korean culture, it makes all the sense in the world to heat the floor. That's where they would spend the most time in the past. Beds were mats on the floor and tables were about a foot off the ground with cushions for chairs. I feel as though ondol heating is becoming a bit antiquated as Korean culture becomes increasingly westernized. It's hard to find someone that sleeps on the floor, though it's not entirely unheard of. Most homes have normal tables like we're used to at home, and only bring out the low tables for sitting on the floor for special occasions. Let me tell you... when sitting in a normal chair, the only part of you that's warm is your feet. OK, that's not entirely true, but ondol heating tends to take a long time to heat up (like a few days to a week) and almost as long to cool down if it's too hot, though you'll rarely find me complaining about that.

Another handy thing to know about ondol is renting hotels in Korea. Most places have western beds, but if you're traveling in large groups, or looking for cheap prices check out an "ondol" room. This is basically just one big room where everyone can just sleep on the floor.

I would say maybe 10-20% of restaurants still have floor seating. These restaurants usually, but not always, have ondol heating. Ondol heating in public places/ businesses is less common. These are usually heated either by space heaters or wall units (or some combination of the two).

Going to the jjimjilbang is another place to see people sleeping and just chilling out on the floor. At most jjimjilbangs there are sleeping rooms where you can just pay a little more than a regular visit to the baths part and get a blanket and sleep in a dark room (another cheap way to travel in Korea). Sometimes people don't even get the sleeping rooms though. It's not uncommon for me to see men and women passed out on the floor in any position imaginable in the common area. I guess all the relaxation from the saunas and baths just puts them to sleep. No one would kick you out of a jjimjilbang, so I suspect that you could even sleep out there for the night if you wanted. Besides, laying out on a warm floor probably makes you sleepy anyway.

So, moral of the story? I think if I were ever in the position of having to rent and furnish my own Korean apartment, I think I'd go as traditional Korean as I could to take advantage of the ondol heating. I sort of prefer sitting on the floor sometimes, and I really don't mind sleeping on the floor.... Wow, just thinking about that makes me wish I could get rid of my table and bed right now.... the floor would be soooo warm right now........

Saturday, January 10, 2009

K-pop Education

I know I've been posting a lot lately, and I hope it's not too much to keep up with, but I keep finding fun things to write about.

This one is a bit of teacher education that is incredibly useful:

Korea's best kept secret: Night Skiing

As you may have noticed if you follow this blog regularly, night time habits of Koreans never cease to amaze me. My first experience with this was spending the night in Hongdae, and going home when the sun came up. Then I went shopping in Dongdaemun one night until 2:30 am, and the place was still packed when I left. This week it's skiing ^_^.

My Korean friend invited me to go skiing with her after work. I was a little confused when she told me that we'd ski from 12 to 5... in the afternoon? No, midnight to 5:oo am she told me. I may or may not have scared her with my resounding Yes! Yes! Please take me! Please Please!

We drove out to Vivaldi Park, which is about an hour away, once you get outside of Seoul... which might take an hour unto itself, depending on traffic, and where you start from. Her friend drove us there (which is another scary story unto itself, but suffice to say, I remembered how much I don't like cars) We arrived there around midnight, and rented our skis and board from one of the 6 million ski rental shops along the way to the mountain. It only cost 10,000 won for skis and boots, but I think her friend had some sort of membership.

We got to the mountain, put on our gear in the car and bought our lift tickets. Again, it was only 27,000 won for the lift tickets, but I think that was a lower price than it should have been since he had a membership. Ski hills break up charges according to the time of day you ski. I guess we do in the US too, but there are more options in Korea... but I think it is more expensive for a full day of skiing here than it is at home. At Vivaldi Park, the day is broken up into the following chunks.Most ski hills have something similar:
8:30 am- 1:00 pm Morning
12:30-5:00 pm Afternoon
6:30 - 11:30 pm Night
12:00- 5:00 am Early Morning
Other mountains I've seen have slightly different variations of this schedule, but they all seem to have late night (early morning) skiing.

We hit the slopes, and it was blisteringly cold. Right now in mid-afternoon it's only 23˚F, I suspect it was around 10.. maybe lower on the mountain last night... could have been closer to 0˚, it wouldn't surprise me. Tonight's low for Seoul is 9˚, so imagine what it's like without the heat blanket of the city, and on top of a mountain. Not to mention that usually when I go skiing I wear to many layers, so I overcompensated in the other direction this time and wore not enough layers. I really thought I was going to get frostbite on my toes. But I didn't. I survived.

As for the hill, I was very impressed. Having lived in Vermont for the past 5 years, and living in New England my whole life, I have fairly high expectations of ski hills. I loathe skiing in icy conditions. Hitting a few patches of ice really ruins my experience. When I saw the number of people on this (in my view) tiny ski hill, I was worried that the trails were going to be one giant ice patch and that it was going to impossible to ski around the swarms of people. But, when I got to the top, I realized that all the people swarm the green trails. On the "difficult" mountain, I was impressed to find that I had plenty of room to ski, and that there really were no more people than at home. As the night progressed, there were even less people than on the slopes at home I think. It was all powder and packed powder, which is the best I think that anyone can hope for here. I didn't hit a single patch of ice all night. Lines at the lift were never more than 10 minutes, usually less than that. As the night progressed, waits went down to about a minute by 3:30 or 4. Lines went quite quickly seeing as they had an 8 person lift. I've never seen a lift so big in my life.

My only complaint is the size of the hill. While it was fine for one day, I think it might get boring to do the same 5 or 6 trails every time if I were to come back often. The hill only has 11 trails The hardest trail they had open last night was labeled a black diamond, but I didn't find it any more difficult than a harder blue square trail at home... maybe easier, since there was no ice to be had, despite the steep incline. Here's the trail list that I stole off the website. I can't find a good trail map though.

length(m) width(m) slope(o) level snowboard mogul
Ballads 550 150 9 Novice
Reggae 570 40 17 Middle-high O X
Classic 570 40 16 Middle-high O X
Rock 590 40 28 Expert X X
Funky 400 30 17 High O X
Techno 1070 50 19 High O X
Techno 1070 50 19 High O X
Hip-hop 790 100 19 Middle-high O X
Hip-hop 790 100 15 Middle-high O O
Blues 350 50 15 Starter X X
Jazz 808 40 13 Intermediate O X

I think I did all the intermediate, middle high and high trails. I'm not sure where that expert trail was, but I think it was closed last night anyway. I would have liked to try that and see if it's as hard as they say.

Right now, all the snow is man made. I'm sure with this cold snap we've had for the past few days they've been able to make snow like crazy. While going up the lift, there was only a dusting of natural snow on the ground blow us.

Some people complain that there is no off trail skiing or glades here. I've always been too scared to ski around trees, so I guess I don't know what I'm missing. I feel as though that would be too dangerous at night anyway.

So, all in all, I'd say a night on the slopes beats a night out in Hongdae any day. If you can find someone with a car, get out there as soon as you can! I think the lack of car is the thing that keeps us foreigners away. The whole time I didn't see a single Westerner. That is the first time that's happened in a while. I always seem to bump in some westerner somewhere wherever I go.

Oh, one last thing. I feel like when I ski at home, the ratio between skiers and snowboarders is about 50:50. But here, I think there was about 1 skier per 100 snowboarders. I've never seen so few skiers in my life. What an odd sensation. But, I guess snowboarding is the way the world is going, maybe I should try it some day.... but... not in Korea.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

On turning 25.....

Those of you who know me may think to yourself.... wait... you're not 25. This is true... in some countries at least. But here in Korea, I am now officially 25 because I was born in 1985. I feel as though this is a fitting time to explain ages in Korea.

So, in Korea when you are born you are 1 years old. I believe this originated with starting age at the time of conception, but I'm not too well educated on the specifics. In addition to this different way of counting years, everyone gains a year on January 1st. So. Say there is a child born on December 29th. When he is born he is one years old. Come the new year, he becomes 2 years old. So, a 3 day old baby is already 2 years old.

Things get even more complicated when you consider the importance of age in this country. Asking age is normal here, and should not be considered an insult. It's merely a way to determine how much respect they should give you when they speak, because the language is based on honorifics that depend on age and status. If you are not the same age as someone, you can not consider someone a "friend" (징구: chingu). That's not that you can't be friends with someone of a different age, but you can't use the world friend. You must use terminology like older brother (오빠: opa) or older sister (어니: oni) or younger brother or sister (note: those are the words that girls use to call their older brothers or sisters. There is a different word to use if you are a man, but I don't know them, since I'll obviously never need to use them). So, this hypothetical person who was born on December 29th can not be "friends" with someone who was born 4 days later on January 2nd because they are not the same age.

This system was also used in other Asian countries, but it seems as though it's fading out in every other country except Korea.

Noches de Pasión!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A day exploring Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is not exactly a huge tourist city. Most of the people that come there are just passing through, like us, for a day or two. The Cu Chi tunnels seem to be the most popular thing (though they aren't actually in the city), and the Mekong Delta is also very popular (also not in the city). There are a few things to see in the city, besides just to experience the overwhelmingness of it all.

After coming home from the Cu Chi tunnels, the bus dropped us off within walking distance of the War Remnants museum. We headed over there and walked around there for about an hour. This museum is very interesting. They had some American military vehicles scattered about out front. Inside there were many incredible photographs from the war. Some were quite graphic, one of my friends decide to skip out on the experience. They had guns from the period and there was one gallery dedicated to Vietnamese children's paintings depicting war and peace. I was impressed to see Korea make a good representation on many of the children's paintings (as noted by the hanboks worn by the people in the paintings).

The next day we left our hotel around 11, and started walking until we hit Ben Thanh Market. This was a great place to shop. Some of the things were much cheaper than we had seen in Nha Trang. Other things were about the same price, so it's all hit or miss. Here, like everywhere in Vietnam, you must bargain for everything. I found that whatever price they name for you is probably almost double what it is worth. Maybe more. It seems as though the trick to bargaining is pretending that you don't really care whether or not you buy it. If it is something that they know you love, they aren't going to budge much on the price, because they know you'll buy it regardless.

We left here and continued walking. We found a shop that sold old propaganda posters. Many depict crushing the American enemy, but others just suggest that working hard will improve the country and praise Ho Chi Minh. They had some very large posters that were probably originals, but there were no prices listed and I assume that they are quite expensive. Two of my friends picked up replicas for $10 USD each. I wanted one, but I wasn't quite sure what I would have done with it once I had it. It's sort of an awkward thing to own really.

We then continued to wander, stopping in many of the shops along the way until we got to the Opera House. We didn't go it, but it is a pretty building. Close to there was the gigantic City Hall. This was a much more magnificent building than any other building that we had seen and would see. Too bad we couldn't go inside.

From there we headed over to the Reunification Palace (Independence Palace). This was the home of the South Vietnamese president before the country was unified. You can tell by the architecture that it was obviously built in the 1960's (1962 to be exact). I think that architecture from this period is absolutely hideous, but that's just my humble opinion. Many people might know this building, because this is where people were evacuated from the rooftop once the official handover of power of South Vietnam was handed over to North Vietnam in the Fall of Saigon. There is a famous photograph of a North Vietnamese tank crashing through the front gate of this palace.

At the Reunification Palace you are able to walk through and view all the rooms. I highly suggest a tour, because we walked through on our own and didn't really learn a thing. The only signs posted tell you the names of the rooms. From the rooftop, you can see a nice view of the city, and there is an interesting photo gallery in the basement.

From there we walked through Tam Dan Park to Notre Dame Basilica down the road. On the way there, we saw quite a few propaganda posters around. I'll post the photos here, if anyone can translate for me, I would be much obliged. We arrived at Notre Dame, but we didn't go in, though I wish we had. No one else seemed too interested, so I didn't push it. If you read my blog often, you'll know that I have a slight obsession with ecclesiastical arts. Oh well, it was nice to see from the outside at least.

From there we headed towards the river. We tried to find the Hard Rock Cafe, because my friend wanted to buy something there, but it seems as though it disappeared into thin air. We ate dinner at Pho 24. This is a restaurant chain that serves mostly only pho. What is pho? Pho is Vietnamese noodle soup. It is commonly eaten for breakfast, but it can be eaten at other times of the day as well. It's delicious, and I highly recommend you go to your local Vietnamese restaurant right now and eat it. Pho ga is chicken soup and Pho bo is beef soup. Don't ask me the pronunciations, I'll be sure to botch them.

We arrived at the river (after a perilous experience crossing the road) and walked along for a little while. It was nice to see, and there were lots of river cruise boats along the river, but otherwise, not much to see. We then headed back towards our hotel because we were flying out that night.

When we got back to the area where our hotel was, two of my friends went to pick up some clothes they had custom made for them. Custom tailoring is quite common in Vietnam, and you can see any number of shops that will offer to custom make clothes for you for quite cheap. Each of my friends ordered a few things, and some turned out better than others. None of the clothes they had made were on display in the store. They chose clothes from "catalogues" and the tailor did her best to recreate the design. One dress turned out to be something completely different from what she had asked, but the others turned out pretty well. I would suggest though, to order something that they have an example of in the store instead of from catalogues, because that way you know exactly what style you're getting. I would also leave yourself ample time, because sometimes they need to make adjustments after you try them on. We were so rushed to catch our flight that we were rushing them, and I don't think they quite did as good a job on them as they would have if we hadn't rushed them.

After the tailor, we headed back to our hotel, got our things and caught a cab to the airport. I highly recommend catching a metered taxi rather than calling a van through your hotel. While this is more convenient, its much much more expensive.

All in all, I loved Ho Chi Minh City. It is vibrant, exciting and fast paced. I contemplate to myself if I would want to live here someday. I feel as though I would be afraid to ride a bike or motorbike in the streets, but it might be less stressful than being a pedestrian here though. Well, who knows where life will take me, I wouln't worry about it now.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ho Chi Minh City: Motorbikes

I'll admit, I've been to a lot of places in the world, and I've seen a lot of crazy things. But, I have to admit, Ho Chi Minh City may well be the most insane places I've ever been. Don't get me wrong, that's no insult, I absolutely loved Ho Chi Minh City.

So, why does it get a 10 in my book of culture shock? The motorbikes... and traffic in general in the city. I've never seen anything even remotely close to it.

According to Wikipedia, in this city of approximately 6,600,000 people, there are 4 million motorbikes and (only) 500,000 cars. I get the feeling that buying a car would never even occur to the residents of the city. I suppose even if you could afford a car, you'd never be able to get around.

Whole families of a mother, father and three children will all be piled onto one regular sized motorbike to get around the city. If that's not bad enough, traffic rules are quite lax here and many parts of the city rely on rotaries rather than traffic lights.... making pedestrian traffic nearly impossible. Those who choose to walk, risk their lives every time they need to cross the street, because even if there is a crosswalk, the motorists have little mercy for them.

Of course, I suppose they treat the pedestrians just as they treat each other on the road. motorbikes will ride within inches of one another, and cars merging lanes will force themselves in leaving less than an inch between themselves and the other cars... or motorbikes.

I read somewhere that the traffic rules of Vietnam are as such: Small yields to big. Pedestrians yield to bicycles, motorbikes, cars, trucks and buses. Bikes yield to motorbikes, cars and trucks... and so on in that order. They signal to each other to yield by beeping the horn... and continuing to beep until they get what they want. The city is filled with a cacophony of horns that can be deafening sometimes when you're on busy, traffic filled roads.

I hope to write more about Ho Chi Minh City soon, because I don't want to leave my readers with a bad impression of the city. It is a vibrant and exciting city, though, admittedly not huge for tourism.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Cu Chi Tunnels

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on Thursday night and as soon as we got to the hotel, one of the staff booked us a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is actually this biggest reason why we came to Saigon, since it's not a huge tourist town. But anyway, I'll save Ho Chi Minh City for another post. For $6 USD he signed us up on a guided tour of the tunnels which included transportation to the tunnels which are about 40 miles northwest of Saigon and a real, English speaking tour guide (unlike many other "tours" that we saw in Nha Trang).

As we rode in the bus, our guide explained to us a little bit about Saigon and what Saigon was like during the war. Our guide explained to us that he had fought with the South Vietnamese Army during the war, the side of the Americans.

Once we arrived, we had to pay entrance into the area, which was 80,000 Dong, which is about $5 USD. Once we entered, we went into a room and were shown a propaganda/documentary film that was actually filmed in Cu Chi during the Vietnam war by the Viet Cong to demonstrate the loyalty and hard work of the citizens of this area. It was strange to hear them praising how great the men and women who killed Americans were, but it was amazing to see actual footage from that time.
They then walked us into the forest. The first stop was to view an actual entrance into a tunnel. it was tiny and was basically a hole that went straight into the ground and was covered by a small wooden cover which the VC soldier could pull over his head. Covered in leaves it would be practically undetectable by American soldiers looking for it. As we approached, a tour guide was putting himself into the hole in the ground and he magically disappeared underground.

They then offered any of us to try to get in. One fairly tall western man jumped in first and he got in alright though he had some trouble getting his arms in and pulling the cover back over himself because he was so tall. I jumped in next (yea, i have to try everything). I had no trouble what so ever getting in, since I'm pretty short and more or less small around. Here, though, was just a demonstration of the size of the tunnels, not for actually going through the tunnels, so then we finished jumping in holes in the ground and continued along our way through the woods. By the way, this picture is of me under the ground.... believe it or not, I don't care.

Next to see on our journey through the woods were all the booby traps. Other bloggers described the booby traps as almost something you had to watch out for as you walked along, but they were pointed out by the guides. I wouldn't quite describe it like that. The first booby trap we saw was this railed off tiger trap. It was used before the war to catch tigers and such, but they turned it into a weapon to catch enemy soldiers. If you step on one corner, it flips up and drops you into a pit full of spikes.

Our guide then took us to a whole room full of various improvised booby traps that were used by the VC. None of which looked very pleasant. One particular booby trap was a double hinged bar that would swing down from a door entrance. He said enemy soldiers particularly disliked this one because it had the tendency to turn them in to "lady boys" as he put it.

As we walked long the trail, he pointed out many things that looked like termite hills. In fact they were actually air holes in disguise for the tunnels. These air holes were also vital in protecting them from all the attempted sabotages from the American soldiers. They would try to gas them out, but with these air holes it proved in effective. There were also so many exists that even if they cinched off one exit, they could still easily go to another exit to escape. He also explained that wherever they did their cooking, they were able to divert the smoke from the cooking to another area, and there diffuse the smoke so that even if it was detected and bombed, it would be far away from the actual tunnels and eating area. Their ways of protecting their tunnels were really ingenious.

Here's our guide in front of a tank that was captured by VC soldiers during the war.

We were brought to an eating area where we were able to try tapioca which was the main sustenance of the VC soldiers sometimes. I never realized what tapioca actually was in its real form. It's actually some sort of root and sort of has a consistency like a potato, or more like a yuka if you've ever tried that. Then you can dip in into a dry mixture of peanut and sugar. I expected it to be really disgusting, but it actually wasn't bad. Even still, I can't imagine living off of that. Of course, that's how they can fit so easily in the tunnels I suppose.

We also got to see a quick demonstration of how rice paper is made. Here is a photo of the rice paper drying in the sun. Rice paper like this is used to make spring rolls.

Then there was the actual tunnels. I feel like this was the most hyped up part of the adventure, and unfortunately for that reason it was a slight disappointment. Every review I had read described the tunnels as these incredibly claustrophobic, pitch black and impossibly small tunnels that no one can believe were actually widened so that western tourists could fit. Everything I read said that you pretty much had to crawl. What it actually was, was a fairly well lit tunnel large enough that I could walk through (albeit hunched double over). I wished they had preserved a small portion of the tunnel for tourists to go through that was the actual original size. I wouldn't want to go far, but I just want a real idea of what it was like. Evidently the VC essentially walked (or should I say waddled) in a squat position when they traveled through the tunnels.

The VC had many many kilometers of tunnels, though I don't think anyone knows the exact number of how far they went at their height. For more information, check out the wikipedia article.