Saturday, November 15, 2008

Our Engagement and John & Anthony's Birthday

On October 28th, Heather and I got engaged at a restaurant on Dalmaji Hill in Haeundae. This date was actually our anniversary, because we started dating on October 28th, 2006. Back when I first started posting photos of Heather on here, I didn't know if it would be good to share too much of my personal life online. But I've since realised that the blog is as much for my own memories and reflection as it is for your interest.

Anyway, this is how it happened that day...

We were both lucky enough to have a day off work and went to Mt Geumjeong in central Busan. We hiked up to the summit in the late afternoon and it was a difficult but rewarding climb. The views of the city are better than anywhere else.

Here's Heather resting on a rock. Little did she know what plans I had for her that day. Ho ho ho.

We took the cable car back down as they were closing up. In this photo, Heather had turned around suddenly and was trying to decide whether she wanted to be in it or not. I like these kinds of photos.

Here's a photo that Heather took of me in the cable car. For all the photographing and blogging that I do, I must say that I still feel a little strange when I know someone is taking a photo of me.

After that we went to the Vesta spa and bath house in Haeundae to relax in the warm waters. It was pretty empty, and I had a massage from my favourite massage chair: The O2 Zone. While you're receiving the massage from this machine, a large visor covers your upper body and it plays rainforest music while wafting peppermint-scented oxygen around you. Kind of nice...

Then we went to this restaurant for the first time. It's called The Kitchen, and I heard about it from Ellis in the office. The location is on Dalmaji Hill, which roughly translates to 'moon-viewing hill'.

It was a very classy place and honestly served the best Italian food I've had in Korea. Everything was going perfectly that night.

Here are the home-made breads that they served. Apart from sour rye bread, they also included thinly sliced eggplant which was fried until golden and crispy. You can see it on top of the garlic bread here. The round thing in the centre is a dry roasted garlic bulb, cut horizontally. It was very pleasantly flavoured and the hallmark of an accomplished chef in the kitchen.

For entrée we ordered this roast duck and rocket lettuce salad. It was superb and had subtle traces of prune, grilled tomato and mandarin flavours. It was shortly after this that I proposed. I didn't get down on one knee and I didn't have a ring (I decided that it would be best if we chose one together), but I popped the question pretty smoothly after we were talking about our relationship for a while. And right then, the waiter came with our main courses. So I had to wait until she had left before Heather said 'yes'.

After that we started giggling together and drank some champagne.

The waiter took this photo of us afterward. I told her that we had just gotten engaged and she said that we were a very good couple.

Our main courses were really good too. We both ordered different pasta, but I forgot to take a photo of it before we started eating it, because my thoughts were mostly 'Hooray, we're engaged'.

After dinner, the waiter directed us to the top floor balcony of the building where there weren't any people. We spent some time up here enjoying the views of Haeundae beach.

After that, we went for a walk on the hill.

The following Saturday, we had our engagement celebration. Coincidentally, it was also John and Anthony's birthday during the same week. We only wanted a small group of friends and Anthony invited us to his apartment. Lately we have developed an appreciation for Moet & Chandon champage that usually retails for around $120 per bottle at restaurants. Obviously we don't get to drink it that often, but this was a special occasion.

Luckily for us, there was a sale at Lotte on that week, that began on the Friday. Bottles of our favourite drink were only $57 per bottle. So we bought a lot of them.

Jef arranged this nice little display for us. We bought a total of 16 bottles that night, and consumed 14 of them. If you're never been tipsy on real champagne before, it's something that you need to try.

Earlier in the day, Anthony and I went out and bought this large pot, which we used as the ice bucket.

And it wouldn't have been complete without a good amount of fine foods, which had been carefully selected. We had pork, real foie gras, capers, dill pickles and a nice selection of cheeses like Camembert, Gouda and Blue.

An occasion like this would not have been as good without some awesome friends to celebrate with us. We had a lot of toasts that night.

Following this are the people who attended:

Well, first of all, here's me. Being an amateur gastronomist and cooking enthusiast, I handled all the sandwich making for the night. Each person's French roll was cut and tailored to individual tastes. The core ingredients were pork (or tuna), cheddar cheese, tomato, black pepper and sun-dried tomato pesto. Anthony and I had gone out earlier on the day, with me riding on the back of his scooter, to seek out food for the night.

Next is my lovely girlfriend of the past two years and now fiancé, Heather Jung. The question for me wasn't if I wanted to marry her or not, it was when the best time to ask would be.

The world would be a better place if everyone had a friend like Heather.

Most of the photos in the latter part of this blog were taken by Amanda Johnson, grinning here at the reflective ceiling of the elevator. She took this shot with Jef, as they were coming up to the engagement party. I'm glad she took a lot of photos that night, because I had stopped fairly early. Amanda would best be described as bubbly and energetic, yet straightforward and intelligent when the occasion warrants.

Amanda has been around since the beginning. The previous photo reminded me of this one from 2006 which you can find in the 'September' archive. We took this together during CDI training in Seoul, at Namsan tower. We've all come a long way, but are still here working for the same company, which says a lot for our school and Korea in general.

Next is Jef Robison, a staunch friend of ours and a popular socialite in high demand. Cultured, traveled and with heavily refined social skills, Jef is the kind of person you want at an occasion like this. He knows what good food is, and how to avoid hyenas in Africa.

Next is the guy I have been living with for the past year. John Ngo is a Vietnamese/Chinese Canadian who is quiet, but friendly and unassuming. Mild mannered and easy to get along with, John is the kind of guy who will play video games for 5 hours on a weeknight and then wake up early to watch American football. I believe he is doing some sort of gang sign in this photo.

On the left here is Heather's friend, who is Korean but usually lives in Melbourne. Her name is also Heather and they met many years ago at Mount Rushmore in the States. Heather (my Heather) actually got her name from this Heather back then and has kept it ever since.

You can never have too many Heathers.

Here's Anthony Nguyen, who you all were acquainted with in the last blog post. In Australian lingo, Anthony is what we'd call a 'top bloke'. A good day for him is hanging out with the boys and fishing while drinking beer. Anthony is the kind of person who suggests things to do on the weekends via text message, all in upper case and with plenty of exclamation marks. An example would be: "LETS GET SOME BEERS AND HANG OUT IN MY BOMB APARTMENT YO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!", although there would normally be a few spelling errors in there.

It is not uncommon to receive such a message from him at midday.

One interesting aspect of Anthony's personality we found out about is that he is mildly obssessive-compulsive. He likes to arrange his entire bathroom cabinet with everything lined up neatly and all labels facing the same way. Amanda took delight in disorganising the cabinet into an unimaginable state of chaos that night. Anthony tried to hide his enthusiasm from us as we watched him frantically put everything back into its proper place.

He would make an excellent librarian.

Next is Daniel Pak, a close friend of mine since Year 8 in middle school back home. Daniel has matured a lot since those days and we've had a lot of good times together over the years. Daniel is the kind of friend who will help you bury a body. Situations requiring such help would be few and far between in a lifetime, but so are friends who would stick around until the end.

And last but not least is Jennifer Pejic, the head instructor at Heather's branch who can always be counted on to listen when you need listening to. As an accomplished skateboarder and a hackey-sack competition winner, Jen is full of surprises that you only find out about if you ask the right questions.

We ended up doing a good number on the Moet and spent the night away chattering, drinking and laughing, while listening to nostalgic tunes on Anthony's laptop. We spent the time between the bedroom and the balcony, talking about the good times passed and those we hope for in the future.

Here's me again, pretending that I don't like kisses. I'll probably grow out of that one day.

When you link arms and drink like this, it's called a love shot.

We had an amazing time that night, with fine food and wine, a close circle of great friends and an apartment with a view to match. Reflecting on this and my time here in Korea in general, I've been luckier than I ever imagined I would be.

Wherever you are in the world right now, I propose an invisible champagne toast with you. To our engagement, to John and Anthony's birthday, to all those who are a good friend to someone else, and to a peaceful and prosperous future for everyone.

It's been fun sharing the blog with you all thus far, and I intend to keep doing so.

See you next time!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Sports day and the Fire Flower Festival

A little while ago our schools held a Sports Day for all of the branches. We now have 15 branches across Busan and Changwon cities, and all staff and teachers were invited. This was the first time we'd done such a thing.

It started at 9:30am on a Sunday morning, and waking up on time was arguably the first (and most difficult) event. But a respectable number of us showed up on time and began milling around the soccer field of Yeonsan Middle School, where the event was held.

Here's Jeff and Anthony waiting for the day's events to begin. Anthony has since been promoted to Head Instructor of the branch that I worked at during my first year here.

The CEO Mr Kang, addressing all of the teachers in Korean. We've gotten used to not understanding any of his speeches. He sure sounds friendly though.

Amanda was fairly tipsy for the whole day. In Korea, it's more acceptable to be slightly intoxicated during the day.

Here's Heather and me, happy as usual.

For lunch we had roast pig and donkasu (schnitzel type things). The food was good, but I can't help comparing any roast pig to the New Year's Pig back in Australia that Hong's dad always cooks. Nothing ever comes close to that.

There were a number of competitions during the day, which included foot-baseball and dodgeball. In this event, everyone had to hold the material firmly while the smallest person in the group ran across the top of it. Because we weren't strong enough, it was more of a crawling/tumbling than running.

The object of this game was to blow up as many balloons as you could. Then there was a competition to pop them all. Kind of fun, but could have been better organised.

For this event, we had to race in teams around the witches hat, while locked together in a long hoop. One person got to run on the outside and push. It wasn't long before we realised that different people have different sized legs and different speeds at which they run. This made the task considerably more difficult than first imagined.

The object of this game was to bounce the ball as many times as possible. I think we got to 17 or so.

We split the entire group into two teams and had a massive tug-o-war. Our team won both times, possibly because we had more of the bigger guys on our team. I pulled a muscle in my leg during this, which I referred to thereafter as a battle wound.

In wars (and tug-o-wars) there will always be casualties, I guess.

Mr Hong and Conan were the two final contenders of the relay race. It was a heated rivalry between the Gwangan and Changwon branches, but Mr Hong won the day by diving (or falling) at the end. He actually broke his kneecap here, which he discovered the next day. He had surgery soon after and now hobbles around headquarters, defiant and proud.

Daniel recently bought a motorbike. It's a Honda CD-R and is pretty fast. I sold my scooter ages ago partly because it was a little dangerous.

Jef and Amanda were up late drinking the night before. When they arrived at Sports Day, it wasn't long before the ever-resourceful Amanda located the beer stash. The last event of the day was karaoke and I'm sure you can put two-and-two together by yourselves.

They sang 'It's Raining Men', a song that has since become somewhat of an anthem for us here in Korea.

And the audience cheered. All in all, it was a good day out and more fun than I had anticipated. It's rare that we get to see all of our school staff together at the same time.

Recently the annual Fire Flower Festival was held at Gwangali beach. This is always a massive occasion with around one million people observing the event. I headed down to Anthony's place early in the afternoon. Luckily he landed his new apartment at the beachfront a couple of weeks before the event. Fireworks were launched from the bridge and the boats you can see there.

As time ticked by, the crowd below began to accumulate. Soon it became a patchwork quilt of picnic rugs. We had stocked Anthony's apartment with plenty of food and beverages hours beforehand and enjoyed the scenery below.

As always there were friendly policemen around in their preferred teams of 30 or so.

But actually, at large events like this in Korea, there's usually very little trouble.

We briefly went down below to have a look around and saw this line up for a convenience store. When there are too many people, an assistant at the door will get everyone in a queue and you have to wait until other people have left. Otherwise it just becomes silly inside and you could be pressed up against a Coke refrigerator and unable to move when the fireworks start.

At least you'd have plenty to drink.

We sat around in the apartment and had some pre-fireworks drinks as more of our friends showed up. Bunny-earing in the middle of this photo is Hyo-ju, Anthony's good friend from Cheonju. She once brought us a big bucket of gamjatang (pork and potato stew) from her hometown, which is famous for it.

By this time, any poor commuter attempting to traverse from one end of the road to the other would soon find themselves gridlocked in people-traffic. I spared a few thoughts for such people in the thronging mess below as I comfortably sipped my beer at the window. Contemplation is always much easier when you're in a nice apartment.

Then the show started. There were some impressive new lighting effects from the bridge as well as remote controlled aeroplanes that were involved in the show. To give you an idea of scale, that bridge is around 7.5 km long in its entirety.

The show was choreographed to various theme songs, including 'Allegria' by Cirque du Soleil, which was a classy pick. As the 'fire flowers' lit up the night sky, the crowds below increased their thronging to a dull raw.

These was also a new addition - little floating fireworks that were released by a boat and gently bobbed up and down on the water.

The show lasted a little over half an hour and the view this year was much better than last. If you flick back in this blog to the same festival last year, you'll see that back then we were reduced to waiting in a stairwell for the show to begin. We were also about a kilometre further away.

That's why it's good to have friends like Ants-on-me (Anthony).

Here's a video of the show toward the end.

As the crowds started clearing out, large amounts of street rubbish became visible from our vantage point. I took this long-exposure shot with my trusty and compact (yet no-frills) Sony DSC. If only those pesky people didn't move, it would have looked much clearer. The next time you're walking on a recently crowded street at night, consider pausing every once in a while, lest some poor blogger be attempting a long exposure shot of your surrounds.

After this, Heather and I went down to ground zero for a closer inspection of the debris. Not long after this, teams of council workers set about cleaning up the mess. In the morning it was all cleared away.

After that we meandered around the streets for a while, which were busy until the wee hours of the morning. This photo was taken outside Thursday Party, which is now only a minute away from Anthony's apartment. It was a fun night out and I hope to be able to make it down for the same event next year.

Look out for the next post, because Heather and I have a rather special announcement to make.

See you soon!