Sunday, August 20, 2006

Job training

Well it's been a busy week. Last Sunday I moved from my nice little koshiwon and into a hotel that's being paid for by the company I'm working with. The new place is in Soelleung and the room is really nice.

Two televisions, a jacuzzi, sauna and internet access? I just hope they're not going to make me pay.

Probably the best thing about the room is the toilet which has a control panel on the side. Being the curious monkey that I am, I started pushing the buttons one day when I was doing my morning business. All of a sudden a jet of warm water started spraying my nether regions. After I got used to the tickling sensation, I found it to be quite enjoyable.

This is my roommate, Ben. He's from Canada and used to teach here a long time ago. Right now he's at a street vendor ordering takgatchi, marinated chicken skewers on a stick that taste a little like teriyaki.

Itaewon is a district in Seoul which is a hub for multicultural businesses. Due to its proximity to the US army base, there are a lot of American style bars and nightclubs. In the daytime you can buy things you'd normally have difficulty finding in the rest of Seoul. Here we are playing pool at a bar called Hollywood.

And here we are back in our room the next day with some friends that the wind blew in. We ordered some delivery food and Ben was still keen on drinking soju. I lent them my spare shorts and we hung out in the sauna for a couple of hours. Daniel and Alex on the left are from Sweden but they live and teach in Thailand.

Every few weeks around the city you see a whole a lot of these buses parked near strategic locations. They're riot-squad buses and they carry special policemen that have to do drills with helmets and shields. The protests in Korea can get pretty serious, especially the student ones. All the doors and windows on the buses are protected with metal cages.

This is a French restaurant in the heart of Sinchon called Le Petit Paris. It's owned and run by a French-Korean adoptee and the staff are adoptees too. The food is good and you can get decent wine as well.

That particular night it was Matthias's 24th birthday. He's from Sweden and recently landed a university scholarship to study here. Happy birthday dude.

Us at the Six O'Clock bar.

Thomas and Sara rocking it hard to some Scandinavian beats.

Pirate love.

Daniel feeling the pinch from a long night out. He was fine the next day. Young bodies heal quick.

So I started my training to be a teacher at a company called CDI last week. The schedule has been pretty intense and I've been impressed by the setup. The company runs private language tuition schools throughout Korea and is expanding into China next year.

The training I've done has involved a lot of theory and mock teaching in front of classmates. The training has been surprisingly smooth and well-planned. While I still don't think I'm ready to teach just yet, it's helped me a lot to organise my thoughts. The rest I guess I can only get from experience.

Even though we're training for 5 hours a day, we still manage to squeeze in a drink with co-workers. But everything in moderation, of course.

Those two girls in the front are satelite adoptees from the US. Satelite adoptees are the name I thought up for those who aren't connected to any of the organisations here. But now they're kinda connected.

Well this is a view of Seoul from our CDI training building. If you look closely you can see my reflection in the glass. I'm leaving this city today and have a bit of catch up blogging to do for the in-between time I've spent here. I guess I'll get that done in Busan. Oh well, cyas.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Vacation ending

I've had a little over 3 weeks vacation since leaving Adelaide now and it's been just what I've needed. The past few days I've tried to cut down a bit on the alcohol intake, but that comes at the cost of soju glass clinking, slurred socialising and semi-delirious zig-zag walks back home.

In Korea there are 'board game cafes'. These are nifty places where you can order coffee and play board games. They have tonnes of them around the place, with everything from Scrabble to obscure renditions of Dungeons and Dragons. The staff can instruct you on the rules of each game, and there are inflatable squeaky hammers that the winner of the game uses on the loser of the game. That's the incentive for playing at your peak. Here's Ji-Hyun trying to safely remove a Jenga piece without knocking over the tower. We invented a new kind of Jenga that night, called Jenga Doom Tower Edition. It's more fun.

That night we were also lucky to meet Park Ji Sung, the famous Korean soccer player who plays for Manchester United. He was standing on the top of a stairwell and agreed to take a photo with us. The bottom of his shirt must be super shiny because it reflected the camera flash a fair bit. He didn't say much but he seemed nice.

This is the TV in my koshiwon. In Korea there are a couple of channels that constantly play computer game tournaments. The players sit in a TV studio with an audience and play games like Starcraft and Warcraft III, with live commentary in the background. Being a bit of a gamer myself, I find it pretty interesting to watch. Right now there's a big tournament on in Seoul, called the World Cyber Games and there is a lot of prize money up for grabs. How much money you ask? Well it's enough to support teams of players worldwide who play games for a living.

One of the only cravings I've had in Korea has been Italian food. I found a pasta place in Sinchon and ordered a spaghetti marinara, a fairly standard dish in any Italian restaurant. The dish itself was pretty good, plenty of shellfish and decent olive oil. But Koreans love their side dishes, and this one came with some sushi you can see in the top left, as well as an apple salad, a plate of gherkins and two sweet buns.

This is an underground shopping mall in Myeong-dong, a large commercial district in central Seoul. These types of malls are fairly common in Korea and can stretch for kilometres under the roads, branching off and linking large department stores above. In a nutshell, they're like huge, brightly-lit rabbit warrens filled with Koreans.

Here we are at the subway again. We've come back here because I wanted to tell you a story that someone else told me. This subway station is different because it's got sliding doors that isolate the tracks from the bystanders. Apparently they install this in certain subway stops and not others because some stations are suicide hotspots. More often than not, they're associated with a university. I guess the pressure of studying for exams must be pretty intense.

On Friday I went to the annual GOA'L conference. GOA'L is an adoptee-run non-government organisation that was set up to support Korean adoptees who return to Korea for various reasons. They've been really helpful to me and are a great resource. Some of you might not know much about adoption, but I'll keep it brief and say that adoption means different things to different people. In the photo you can see Dae-Won Wenger giving the opening speech. Dae-Won is the Secretary General of GOA'L, I guess you could say that he's the Kofi Annan of the Korean adoptee community.

And here's Thomas, doing what he does best and dropping some lines on Korean TV. Thomas is a cool guy and his accent makes him sound a little bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There was a really good buffet dinner that night and they had everything from sushi and octopus to cute little green-tea cupcakes.

Somehow we found our way to a bar later that night and somebody ordered drinks. I was about to protest against this indulgence, thinking about my health, but I caved in to peer pressure. This is Maria from Boston and she's a librarian. Apparently librarians have conferences too, and after their conferences they all get wild and behave like post-conference adoptees.

Today I went to the countryside with the new Korean friends I met last week. We attended the 2006 World Peace Model Festival near Daejon city. This is some of the scenery on the way to where it was held. The Korean countryside is very lush and green and characterised by sharp low-lying mountains and small rice fields.

This temple in the area is called kakkuljang and is surrounded by water that had small boats in it. The air was warm and the scene was really peaceful.

There were also a lot of large carved rocks arranged in upright positions all over the place. One of the guys told me that some of them take about 10 years to carve. They looked really good and reminded me of the menhirs that Obelix used to carve in the Asterix comics.

I didn't quite understand the festival's relevance to world peace but I did see a lot of models doing choreographed dances and there was a marching band. So I didn't complain. My new Korean friends were really nice to me the whole time and even paid for my ticket. Gamsahamnida (= thankyou).

This is my PC Bang desk that I'm blogging from right now. In these places you can get some ramyeon noodles and a drink for about $2. The price for using a computer is about $1 per hour, which kinda makes it more economical than buying your own and getting it connected. Hey look, there seems to be an amazing blog up on the screen at the moment.

It's 5am in the PC Bang I'm in right now. There are about 20 other people in here playing games, and 2 who are fast asleep at their desks. I tend to come to these places when I feel like chilling out. My biological clock has gone a bit funny (flat batteries?) since I left Australia, but I'm sure it'll restore itself after I start doing some work.

Speaking of which, tomorrow the English academy I'm about to work for is putting me in a hotel in Gangnam for my training program that will last a bit more than a week. So that should be interesting and as always I'll keep you posted on how that's going.

Anyway here's a picture of a rabbit in someone's backyard near my place. Seeyas.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Enjoying vacation

I still haven't been up to much else except eating, drinking and having a good time. The koshiwon I'm staying at has a really good location, easy to find and close to everything. I'd recommend it to anyone who's looking for a decent place to sleep at a good price.

This is the view from the roof of my accommodation. Due to space restrictions here in Seoul, a lot of people hang their washing up on the rooftops. Those two socks you can see are mine. I bought them for about 50 cents.

And this is Sinchon McDonalds, a prominent landmark and quintessential meeting place for everyone in this region. It's a busy location in the afternoons, with literally hundreds of people waiting around and meeting up with each other to go out for dinner and whatever may follow. If any of you come to visit me here, chances are we'll meet at this place.

So after everyone arrives and pleasantries have been exchanged, the typical Sinchon meetup group will then migrate down the road and loiter outside a restaurant of choice. This is what Sinchon loiterers look like.

That particular night we ate dakgalbi, a kind of fried combination chicken and cabbage concoction that cooks at your table. Sometimes they put cheese in it. Well actually the cheese here isn't real cheese. It's more like rubbery play-dough that vaguely reminds you of cheese.

Then of course you go to a bar and drink until the sun comes up and burns your eyes.

Here's what it looks like when the sun comes up and burns the eyes of those who have stayed out too long.

The subway system in Korea is super-efficient, convenient, clean and logical. It's definately my transport mode of choice. Seoul metro actually employs a team of mathematicians who come up with the best possible timetables to suit the largest number of people. The stations and the trains are all air-conditioned and you're never waiting long.

You can buy normal tickets to board the subway, or you can use T-money. T-money is probably the best invention that Koreans came up with since cyclic-automated-robotic-carparks that stack cars on top of each other to save space. I'll show you one of those in a sec. But anyway, T-money is a card that acts like a credit card for transport on the subway and buses. You just recharge the card when you want, and then you scan it at the turnstiles. It's kind of like a bluetooth system, the card readers instantly deduct what you owe and you don't have to worry about change or anything.

This is how you scan it to enter the subway. You don't even need to take the card out of your wallet, you just scan your wallet and the computer can read it. When you exit the subway you scan it again and it will tell you how much money you have left on it. You can also use it to buy food at mini-marts and make phonecalls from public phones.
T-money is the greatest. You will learn to love T-money. You will respect the T-money. Do not scold the T-money.

And if the whole T-money thing is too confusing, they even provide plastic bags to suffocate yourself with. Simply place over the head and pull the strings as shown.

And here's the picture I owe you of a cyclic-automated-robotic carpark that stacks cars on top of each other to save space. This whole thing is a robot with a vertical conveyer belt. You just drive into it, get out of your car and put coins in. Then the whole thing rotates like a show ride and your car is stacked up. When you come back you put your pin in and it'll bring your car down for you. Very very cool.

Here we are at a bar again. I have a fair few of these sorts of photos but this one has the guy who hugged Guus Hiddink in it. He actually hugs him in a TV ad they have here. If any of you come to Korea and he's still here, I can introduce you to the guy who hugged Guus Hiddink. For a small fee, he may consider allowing you to hug him too.

Here is my nuna (colloquial expression for older-sister). She doesn't speak any English but she still laughs at what I say. I guess I'm funny in any language?
My Korean hasn't improved much. So far I can only say "Where's the toilet?", "Please give me some beer" and "Where is my beer?"

Yesterday we went to the Lotte World skate rink. This is an ice rink in the middle of an indoor themepark. While I was trying to compose my balance enough to stand still without falling, these little kids were zooming past. But one of the little kids had his helmet on backwards. Hoho.

And here is the King of the Ice, at home in his natural habitat. Shortly before falling backwards and hurting his wrists.

Just kidding, I actually have a remarkable sense of balance when I'm sober.

After a hard days work ice-skating we went and ate samgyeopsal, my favourite bbq type with wrapping leaves, kimchi and a naughty amount of pork fat. The meat has 3 layers of fat, but you can also get ogyeopsal, which has 5. If you don't like eating fat, I usually have enough room left so that it doesn't get wasted.

I've been really lucky and fortunate to meet so many nice people here. I met this group of Koreans last Sunday at the Yonsei University soccer grounds. There was supposed to an adoptee match there, but no one showed up except me. The guy on the far end of the table was playing with a Korean team, so I asked if I could join them and we played together. Then he took me to dinner with his friends. This Saturday they invited me to go to Daejon city with them to see a festival they have there. As I said before, I've been really lucky and people are really nice.

The samgyeopsal we ate that night was a bit more tastier than usual. We had different kinds of leaves and radish slices to wrap it up with. And the whole time the Koreans were teaching me new Korean words. But unfortuneately I forgot them.

Here's what an empty subway station looks like. You can hear the trains in the distance, they make a kind of wailing sound. Then you get hit by a rush of air, then all of a sudden the carriages zip by at lightning speed and then it squeals to a stop. This might be old news to some of you, but back in Adelaide we don't have a subway.

That's it for me this time! And I've accepted a job offer in Busan to teach English to junior middle school students. Next Monday I start training in a special camp for one week before I head down there. When I start working I want to enrol in Korean language classes too. So that should be interesting. Hopefully I can post again before then though. Cyas.