Monday, September 25, 2006

Working life

Working life has been good. We're currently in our fifth week of teaching since our arrival and the weeks have just flown by. There hasn't been as much time to get out and about, but in a way that's a good thing because teaching is less tiring than being a tourist.

This is the view from the back window of my apartment. I like to think that the multiple stairwells give the place a quasi-mediterranean feel. They also remind me of those Escher drawings. The neighbours are pretty quiet, although one old man likes to look at me if I leave my window open in the morning.

Hey look it's the same photo. Actually this one has rain in it. The other week it just poured and poured for about 24 hours. I was in another area later that day and the wind was really strong, blowing everyone's umbrella inside out and rendering them useless. I also saw a 3 metre sign for a net cafe come crashing down and hit someone's car. Then the wind picked it up and sent it hurtling down the street. Later I found out that a small typhoon had brushed past the coast.

This is our subway station during rush hour. We like the area we live in but it's very quiet and mildly uneventful. Except for trucks in the early morning that drive past right outside my window announcing grocery prices through a loudspeaker. I sometimes curse them from under my pillow.

Some BBQ places are much better than others. This one in Seomyeon is a little more expensive but you get these nice little rolled up beef thingies that aren't common elsewhere. That big grey thing there is a live octopus frying itself nicely for us. Actually it was dead, but you can get them alive if it tickles your fancy. My fancy hasn't been tickled yet, but times may change.

Not too far away from us is a Lotte department store. Lotte is a burgeoning corporate behemoth that likes to build apartments, department stores and compartments for things. They also make things that don't rhyme with 'department', but I wanted to showcase my poetic skills. Anyway, out the front they have a big globe of the world. It's nice, but someone stuck the Australia cut-out on backwards. And Tasmania must have fallen off.

Recently we went back to Foxy bar, a large nightclub with hip-hop upstairs and techno downstairs. It's pretty good and has a nice crowd. There's a cigarette stand on the bottom floor, with cutely dressed cigarette-ladies dancing to the music.

Halfway through the night, one of the bartenders started juggling fire bottles. Then he lit up a 6-storey cocktail fountain on the bar for somebody's birthday.

They also have a balcony area which is a good place to chill out. The building on the left is a part of Judie's Taehwa, which is a famous public bath house in the area. Public baths aren't common in western countries and I've been wanting to see one for a while now. Apparently you get naked and strangers will sometimes offer to scrub your back.

After a night out on the town you can still find food places open in the busy areas. Here we are eating samgyetang, a hot ginseng chicken soup that goes down really well when you're feeling a little exhausted.

On another night it was Cheri's birthday. She's a teacher working with our company and I'm glad she came down to Busan because she's always bubbly. Even without alcohol. Next month we're running in a 5 km public marathon. I should really get back into shape.

It seems that a few years ago Korea experienced an episode of golfing obssession. This is the legacy it left behind, entire department store levels dedicated to golf clothing and accessories. I'm not much of a golfer, but I like the scenery of golf courses. Usually when I play I get bored quickly and end up playing hockey with the golf sticks.

In the same store you can buy everything else, from air purifiers to Australian beef and fresh fish. In the mornings before the store opens you get to watch the staff doing choreographed stretching exercises. At Home Plus they do it at midday too. But back in Seoul I went to some place that had staff on rollerblades who did a choreographed dance in the aisles for the shoppers.

I'm eating out a lot these days, mainly because food is cheap and tasty. It's a bit of a hassle buying groceries because it's only me in the flat and perishables tend to do the obvious. I am also becoming of the opinion that cooking for one is a little depressing. On the other hand, a meal like this will cost you about five bucks with unlimited side dishes.

Recently I made a Korean friend, called Mi-Yeong. She doesn't speak any English, so when we hang out it's a good way to learn each other's language. By combining my flimsy Korean with hand gestures and hieroglyphics, I am usually able to communicate simple ideas. That book in her hand is my Lonely Planet guide to Conversational Korean, pocket edition. I took this photo with my outstretched hand, which is why it's a bit blurry.

When I walk home at night it's always through little side alleys like this one, which are all over the place in residential areas. They weave around the backs of houses and apartment blocks, with the odd stray cat or dog in them. I like the atmosphere in our area because it's really quiet and due to their wobbly nature I imagine that the alleys are probably remnants of older walkways that have been around for generations.

Teaching has been pretty much how I expected it to be. I like teaching and the classes are a decent size so it's been enjoyable so far. This is a part of my tangential lecture on global geography and the extent of Genghis Khan's conquests. I drew that map from memory... pretty good eh?

This is my favourite class, called English Chip 3 during break time. Some of the classes can get a bit sleepy, but in general the students work hard. These students are elementary schoolers and I teach middle school kids as well.

The lessons go for three hours straight with a five minute break on the hour. During the break I let them draw on the board when they've been good. They often like to draw little pictures of poo, or comics referring to me. Sometimes a mixture of both.

What a bunch of little angels. They like to tell me their interesting observations from time to time, like when I have a new pimple on my face or how my voice is too deep for my age. On top of all their normal schoolwork, most of them attend private tuition in their spare time.

The other day I ate naengmyeon, ice-cold noodle soup that is great in warm weather. The noodles are usually made of buckwheat and are black. One of my friends told me that the one I ordered on this day is the Pyongyang variety. Pyongyang is the capital of North Korea and is one of the most isolated countries in the world.

These are the markets of Seomyeon during the daytime. There are a lot of small food stalls and various curiousities to peruse. It reminds me of the Chinatown markets in Malaysia.

And at night Seomyeon reminds me of Sinchon back in Seoul. The people here speak a different dialect of Korean, which I think I'm eventually going to pick up after I live here a while.

Thus far, living in Busan has been as good as I had hoped and teaching is enjoyable. The lesson plans are very structured, but I still have a little freedom to go off on a tangent when I feel like rambling. My next focus is going to be on learning Korean, which could be interesting because I'm a little lazy when it comes to languages. Oh well, I guess we'll see how it goes. Cya!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Settling down in Busan

We returned to Haeundae beach on a Sunday to get a better look at the place. It's a very scenic area with islands on the far side and various nearby markets, walking trails and coffee shops.

Jet skis are allowed to roam freely anywhere, even right onto the beach to pick people up. They weave in and out of swimmer traffic, kind of like the scooters in the markets here.

There was a large art sculpture of a baby in the sand. The people in the photo were mixing paint.

In the market stalls nearby there are all sorts of culinary curiousities available for purchase. While live octopus and eels are becoming quite familiar to us, these large albino snails were a surprise. I'm not sure whether you're supposed to eat them alive or not, but they're about the size of apricots.

This is from our first proper meet-up with staff from the other branches in Busan. We like to call our area 'The Ghetto', because it doesn't have any of the attractions that the other branches have. Our area is close to the centre of the city but there's only a block of flats and a large freeway for amusement, because we're situated in a mountain pass. But our branch is still the coolest, naturally.

One night we went out to dinner with the admin staff at our school. This is John and Ji-Hae clapping along to karaoke later that night. Karaoke bars are really popular here, you can find them on just about every residential block. In some areas you can find more than five within a one minute walk.

We found a bar called The Vinyl Underground, which was nice and a bit more spaced out than the places in Seoul. The bars in Busan aren't as crowded, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective.

Food in Busan is pretty cheap and the service is a little warmer if you eat back at the same places. You can get ramyeon noodles for about AUD$1.50 and this meal cost us about 4 dollars each. They always give you more than you can eat, with free side dish refills. I found a similar place closeby that has a menu with the most expensive dish on it costing $2.50.

On our recent day off we ate fish soup with John and Skippa, both admin staff at our company. Then Skippa (in the green) decided to take us to his hometown of Changwon which is about an hour drive away. The journey was through the mountains and we passed a few long tunnels.

He took us to a Buddhist temple complex close to the city which was well kept and very quiet. The mountains were all around and we drank water from a freely running spring. The water was quite tasty.

This is a big bell they have. On the description the English translation states that "it is a Buddhist bell of poor craftsmanship'.

Large carp were swimming in a nearby pond. Carp are native here, but are feral animals back in Australia. Near the middle of the pond is a stone bucket that you try and throw money into. I managed to land 2 out of 5 coins in it, because when I was young I was good at marbles.

The temples were very clean and had a peaceful atmosphere. Gold Buddha statues were in most of them, with various depictions of mythical events painted on the walls. A couple of monks were doing various duties around the place. Temples like these often have 'temple-stay' programs where you can come and live like a monk for the weekend, leaving your city troubles behind. I wouldn't mind giving it a go one day.

The ceilings were decorated with intricate designs and hanging lanterns. You can also buy a tile and write a chalk inscription on it. Then the monks put it on the roof when one needs replacing.

Here's Jef, me and Skippa absorbing some temple atmosphere. Skippa doesn't speak much English, but he used to be a professional singer and can sing Italian opera songs in a tenor voice without a microphone. I reckon it would sound pretty good coming out of the temples.

Then we went to Jinhae, a nearby harbour city. It was a really nice place and the harbour was huge, with clean water and islands. A whole bunch of people were fishing from different places, with some families bringing portable stoves to cook things in.

These two guys were using starfish as bait and had a whole pot of mussels cooked up behind them. They gave some to us and they tasted really fresh. We're planning to come back here someday and go fishing. What a nice way to spend a day off.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Arriving in Busan

We finished teacher training in Seoul on a Tuesday night and celebrated. The training program was demanding at times but overall a worthwhile experience.

This is Jef, wandering in the mists of a 4 litre beer cooler. Four litres of beer like this will cost you around twenty bucks. It kind of looks like his arm is on fire, which was an omen of times to come because later in Busan his hand really did catch fire as we were drinking incinerated spirits.

Part of me was wanting to stay in Seoul, but I had previously made arrangements to end up down south. This is Maria and Mi-Hyun from the last night I went out in the big city.

Purely impromptu moments like this are few and far between. If you disregard the blur caused by fumbling with the camera, a hidden symbolic message emerges. It says something like 'Never underestimate the creativity of a Dane at 6am'.

So we boarded the bus after saying our goodbyes and left for Busan on a Saturday night. I heard that the countryside on the way is nice, but it was too dark to see anything.

And we arrived at our branch early on Sunday morning. This is Meaghan standing at the reception desk. We're the first batch of teachers here and the branch is new so everything is nice and shiny.

This is the admin office. The Korean staff here are really nice and all speak decent English. I'm looking forward to the day when I can speak the language enough to have a Korean conversation with them.

Some foliage near the water cooler. They give us free food and a staff room here too.

The classrooms are built for larger capacities but class sizes rarely exceed ten students. We've been teaching elementary to middle school students at different levels. When I know the students well enough, I'll post some photos of them. Some of the little kids are incredibly smart.

This is the accommodation the company arranged for me. It's a nice place with a gas stove, fridge, shower and ondol (heated floors for the winter).

The next day, some of the admin staff took us out to this restaurant. When I saw the name I thought we'd be dining on some baby kangaroo meat, but it turned out that this was the name of the chef.

Busan is a nice city, with cleaner air and is a bit more scenic than Seoul. The mountains and the beach are really close, which gives the place a more relaxed atmosphere. But it's still a big city with its own subway and nearly 4 million people.

Last week Jef and I made a night trip down to see Haeundae beach, one of the major tourist attractions in Busan. The area around it is also a nightlife district which has a beachy feel to it.

This is the beach at night. It's an impressive sight when you're standing on it and the sand is different to what you find in Australia. The individual grains are bigger, which makes it feel funny to me.

Nearby is a market area, some of which opens until late. You can buy all sorts of live seafood here, but I've heard that there's a much larger seafood market elsewhere.

So Jef and I ate at a random seafood shack to see what was on the menu. These were the appetisers the waitress brought for us. In the middle you can see raw sea snails and those brown thingys on the bottom right are boiled silkworm larvae. The sea snails you scoop out with a toothpick and they taste a little bit like mussels. I had a bit more difficulty in summoning the composure to eat a baby silkworm, but in the end it tasted a bit like barley and peanut butter. You pop the skin in your teeth and the barley-peanut buttery insides ooze onto your tongue. I only ended up eating 4, but school kids here love them.

For main course we pointed at something on the menu and ended up getting a nice mixture of large fresh shellfish that the waitress cooked for us on the bbq. After that, some local woman who was also eating at the place took over and chopped our food up for us while giving us a tutorial in Korean. That's one thing I've noticed in Busan, some of the people are a little eccentric but also very friendly. We bought the woman a beer for her troubles and she was really happy. The shellfish boiled into a broth and it turned out to be an incredibly good seafood soup, the best that both of us had ever tried. It's definitely worth a try.

We also found a western themed bar in the area, where you can buy imported beers including Coopers Sparkling Ale from South Australia.

The next day I went for a walk down the street and had a poke around. This man gave me permission to photograph him and his chicken, which was nice. A lot of older people here, especially women, prefer not to be photographed by strangers. It's important to ask them first. This man was squatting outside his shop and swatting flies for his pet chicken, which was behaving more like a dog than a bird.

We've eaten out a fair bit since arriving and checked out most of the nearby places. This is one example of strange fusion cooking you can get in Korea. I don't know what it's called but it had corn chips, lychees, cabbage, mango and mayonnaise in it. If I had to name it I'd call it a Tropical Mexi-Asian salad.

Two days ago, the O'briens Irish pub down the road had its opening night. I happened to run into the owner last week by accident and he told me about it. The place is run by an Australian from Brisbane and a Korean-American adoptee. This is me eating the first ever sauerkraut hotdog that came from their kitchen. Their menu is western and they're letting us have bar tabs whenever we visit.

$3 shots of Jager? I think I'll have a photo of that too.

That night we lit up some alcohol and dropped it in beer. Jef had the shot lit up properly but dropped it on his hand.

Ok that's it for this session! There's still plenty of stuff in Busan that I haven't seen yet, but as I settle into my job I'll get out and see more of it. I like the fact that this city has a lot of trees, and land is cheaper so everything is a bit more spaced out. If anyone's thinking of visiting, be sure to let me know.