Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Kadok Island

We got a new teacher last week, from Canada, who seems pretty cool and so we went out to celebrate. This is what the table setting looked like, from a good sashimi restaurant in Dongnae. Sashimi is called hue in Korean. Moving down to coastal Busan, I thought I'd be eating a lot more fish in meals but it's been pretty much the same as in Seoul.

I first thought this was some sort of pork from Jeju. It's actually whale meat and I only found out after eating it. I'm guessing it was from a pilot whale or something because the skin was so dark. It tasted fairly average, kind of like fishy beef. Not something worth going out of your way for.

These are some weird fish with big heads that you can eat. They're always curled up like cats and I have no idea what their English name is.

On the weekend we went to Kadok Island, the third biggest island in Korea. It's really close to Busan and you can get to the ferry terminal by bus. The bus will take you about half an hour and the ferry less than 10 minutes to the island.

Oh and here's some other food that I ate that same day. This is gulgukbab, an oyster rice soup that is easy to find in Busan, but less common elsewhere. For about $4 you can get a bowl of it, steaming hot with seaweed and fresh oysters. Good breakfast food.

Back to the ferry now. The ride only cost us about $3 and was fairly pleasant. The ferries constantly travel around the island during the day because there isn't a bus service. When you're tired of one part of the island, you just wait at the ferry-stop and hop on. These little kids were fighting over a bag of chips.

The island is about fifteen square kilometres and has small settlements around the place. It has it's own police station and high school, but there weren't many people out and about. We decided to have a walk up the mountain and see what was on the other side.

There seemed to be a well-established farming community, with a lot of these rice steps built into the mountain. Farming on mountains is a little bit strange coming from Australia because everything back home is very flat.

Here's a dilapidated house that looked like it had been more recently used for a soju party. I find abandoned places like these to be pretty interesting because I always wonder what makes someone pack up and leave a house behind. Would they lock the doors?

A nice artificial lake built into the mountain and unfit for swimming. Come to think about it, I haven't been swimming since I came to Korea.

We wound our way up a mountain path that turned out to be a few kilometres long. It was a pleasant walk and we had plenty of time. Those tarpaulins in the distance are covering firewood that people have chopped and left around the place.

So we got over one small mountain and the view was picturesque. Well worth the effort. There are islands in many of the harbour areas around southern Korea and most of them are heavily forested and uninhabited.

An eunheng namu, or 'bank tree'. These trees are golden yellow and seem to shed all of their leaves very suddenly, over the space of a few days.

The fallout is a little more appreciable up close. I wish my bank balance looked like this.

In the second small town we reached, we boarded the ferry again. We were actually running down the mountain to get on it and it took off, but then an island ajumma yelled and waved her hands and it pulled back in for us. Nice people. The boat stopped at another town before heading back to Busan.

It doesn't look like it, but that day was freezing cold. I had a really thick jacket on and my hands in my pockets were still frozen. I was also surprised to see ice on the roads of the island, at 3pm in the afternoon. There's never ice on the roads back home, so my Korean friend had difficulty understanding my excitement. I guess my Aussie temperament is a little too mild for these arctic outposts.

Now we're back in Busan, ferreting down a tunnel at high speeds. Koreans like to build lots of tunnels because there are lots of mountains.

This is what a DVD bang, or DVD room looks like on the inside. You can find these all over Korea. There are twenty or so rooms on average and you just pick a movie and watch it in private on a projection screen. The couches are pretty comfortable and so these are popular places for young couples to get snuggly.

This is from a Japanese restaurant in the Kyungsan area. I tend to prefer the Japanese style sushi over Korean kimbap because the rice is flavoured with vinegar. Also on the table is some seafood soup, udon noodles and off the photo on the left is some eel rice. Eel tastes a bit fatty and is an interesting alternative to fish.

It appears that some people love eye. I really like the ambiguity in this message. There's all sorts of interesting Konglish around the place, especially on people's shirts. But much of that passes by in the heat of the moment and I can't photograph it. Best to come over and see it for yourself.

See you all again after christmas! I'm working christmas and new years day (it isn't regarded as anything particularly special here), but still having a celebration or two. Should be good. Cyas!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Mt Keumjang

Here we find ourselves admiring the dazzling interior of the Haeundae Sfunz Cinema. I have been unable to work out what Sfunz means, or how to pronounce it. It's pretty though.

Last weekend we went out on a rather chilly day to visit Mount Keumjang, a popular destination for weekend walkers. At the base of the mountain in those huts there, they had some people dressed up in traditional Korean hanbok, playing drums and singing in a very distinct style. In older Korean music, there are some songs that are so difficult to sing that only a handful of people know how to perform them correctly. Such people are entitled 'intangible cultural assets'. I saw a documentary of them on tv.

The trees around Busan are changing colours and are very nice to look at, forming a patchwork quilt when observed from high above.

And here's me standing against a winter backdrop. That ninja guy in the black is Jef, busily documenting a photo library of the leaves. We were actually a lot colder than we appear.

We were soon faced with a dilemma. We could either hike for approximately 2 hours to reach the summit, or take a 5 minute cable car for approximately $3.

We found ourselves at the summit approximately $3 later. The ride up was nice, a little bumpy and a little crowded but we got some good views of the mountain.

The trees change to different colours during the winter but are a little more appreciable in real life. Maybe my camera was on the wrong setting again. Some of the yellow coloured trees are called 'Bank Trees'.

The view at the top was quite nice and not too hindered by the trees. You could see most of Busan, weaving in and out of the mountains. Far off in the distance is the Gwangali Bridge, which is hard to spot in this photo unless you know what to look for. It's a blip in the ocean left of the third green mound from the right.

There were plenty of different vantage points to look out from at the summit. We were able to see from the mountain ranges that we were on, to the ocean on the other side. I have no idea who that phoney tourist guy is.

Nearby was the Yaksu temple, built into the mountains. It had the typical serenity of a temple complex, except that a speaker was built into the mountain and was reciting buddhist verses in a deep voice. I am perplexed at how they carried all the building materials down the steep mountain path.

There were some nice ponds around the place with goldfish in them. I call this shot "Leaf on Water". The inspiration for the title hit me when I realised that there is a leaf and it happens to be on water.

This intricately carved totem was about 3 metres tall and had Korean and Chinese inscriptions carved into it. 'Totem' is probably not the correct terminology, but I like to use that word. As my old man always used to say, "You can never have too many totems". Actually I made that up. But anyway, there was some very skilled craftsmanship that went into the written inscriptions. It had all been done by hand and the spacing of the characters was perfect.

This bell didn't have a padlock on it, but I observed restraint and left it alone. It's more difficult than it seems.

Some more winter colours. This reminds me of the grapevine we used to have in our backyard.

As dusk approached, we found ourselves running a little behind time and scrambled back to the cable car area. The temple was only 200 metres away from it but the slope was very sleep and it took us about 15 minutes.

We ate dinner in an area that we hadn't seen much of before. The Busan University area was very busy for a Sunday night with lots of shops and restaurants open. We found our way to a Turkish restaurant that turned out to be superb. Food like falafel and shaslicks are a rarity in Korea, and thus are savoured and sought after with greater tenacity. By us, at least.

This is 'English Club', a social group set up by some university students for the purpose of practicing their English. They get together once a week and do various language exercises before heading out for dinner. We were introduced through some friends and have found their gatherings to be a good social occasion. Last weekend we played the popular Korean drinking game 'sam-yuk-ku'. It's worth practicing.
Also, our school branch has been going really well. Everyone gets along like friends and recently we won a 'best branch in Busan' award. So we got to eat lunch at The Outback Steakhouse, which is a franchise here specialising in 'Australian food'. I was mystified as to what Australian food may entail, so I analysed the menu eagerly. It turns out that Australians like to eat such delicacies as Queensland Burgers and Toowoomba Steaks.

The restaurant is pretty popular here in Korea and my chicken-shrimp pasta wasn't too bad a meal. This is one of our admin staff, Ji-Hae, smiling nicely for the camera. And for those who may be pondering, she is not my girlfriend.

We've started a new term this week, which means I have been teaching for 13 weeks. Overall it's been a fairly smooth ride, the younger students have a lot of energy though. During the 5 minute break they manage to visit the toilet, eat bags of chips, chat to each other in Korean and leave this graffiti on my board. Impressive.

And here is a model sentence written by one of the students in Jef's class. Jef wrote it on the board in the teacher's room because it never fails to amuse us. The topic was 'Telescopes and space'.
That's all for me this time! It's getting really cold here now... like fridge temperature, but life is going well. Next week I'm starting a second job, which is teaching English to some hospitality workers. Should be fun. Cya round.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Beomeosa temple

Every so often you can get lucky enough to snap something that describes itself. This cosmo flower was sitting on the side of the path through the mountains near my apartment. I walk up them from time to time, although it is getting a little colder these days.

The weekends are usually spent noisily and we end up getting home early in the morning. It takes a couple of days for my body clock to adjust back to normal sleeping hours, so quite often on a Monday night I'll walk around my neighbourhood which is always very peaceful. This is what many of the streets look like at that time.

Last weekend we went to Beomeosa temple, one of the largest and well-known temples in Busan. It was fairly easy to get to from the subway, but still situated deep in the forest.

A lot of other people were there that day. Koreans like to buy all sorts of specialised hiking gear for their regular walks in the mountains. That guy you can see in the front is carrying a collapsible titanium walking stick.

The temple is built around a running stream that you can drink from at the top. This sort of scenery reminds me of the Morialta Falls back in good ol' Adelaide. We used to go walking there a lot, back in the day.

A short walk later and you arrive at the temple complex, surrounded by forest covered hills. The architecture in temples around Korea has many similarities, but each complex has a slightly different feel to it.

There were four of these intricately painted statues guarding the main entrance. They were about 3 metres high and are supposed to keep bad spirits away. I didn't chance upon any bad spirits, so they obviously do a good job.

There's usually a main temple that is a little bigger and more decorated than the others. Those stone steps lead to the main one in the Beomeosa complex. Smaller temples surround it and each has its own theme, such as fertility (which is the only example I can remember). Lots of young couples come to places like these when they are about to get married.

Fresh stream water runs into this carved rock that you can drink out of. The water is very cool and refreshing. The blue cups you can see are communal cups that you find at every such place. Everyone uses them without qualms about germs, something you wouldn't find in many western countries. I use them too, and I try to not think about how easily a single person with Herpes Simplex might infect dozens of people.

Korean Buddhism is a little more shamanistic than the philosophical kind I tend to hold in higher regard. The atmosphere in these places is very tranquil, and even though there are sounds from outside it tends to somehow dampen when you are inside. There are usually candles lit and incense burning.

During the big APEC summit a while ago, temples started offering 'temple-stay' programs where members of the general public can pay a small fee and live like a monk for a weekend or longer. You wake up when the monks wake up, help clean the temple and eat temple food. They also teach you how to meditate and live like they do. The program was so popular that it's still going now. It sounds like a really good idea so I might try it sometime.

This is a pine tree that looked nice so I took a photo of it.

Winter is coming and it's getting cold these days. Back in Australia, it never really dropped below 14 centigrade or so during the daytime. This year they're expecting snow down here. The trees have nice colours on them too, from deep reds to bright yellows.

On Sunday we decided to watch a movie at the Lotte department store. Unfortuneately it seemed that the whole of Korea had the same idea. It was really crowded but not so hard to get a ticket. We watched Guardian, with Kevin Costner in it. It was okay. I'm glad they don't dub the movies here, all the English ones are subtitled in Korean.

And here's what our legs look like when we go to the cinema. Those lights are a little more impressive in real life, just try to imagine them changing colour.

In convenience stores around Korea they always provide you with an instant noodle dining area. There's always a small benchtop, hot water service and a bin with a strainer in it so that you can just buy the noodles and eat them in the shop. I've done it once or twice and it's pretty cool. Here are some kids from the hood showing the blog viewers how it's done.

I thought it timely to show you a picture of what's in my fridge. In the bottom left there is some Homeplus kimchi. In the door there is some Australian Beqa cheese that you can buy pretty easily here and also a carton of thickened cream. Cream in Korea is hard to find, because they're not too big on dairy products. I bought it because I wanted to make spaghetti carbonara for my friend, which turned out well. On the left of the fridge is my bag of short grain rice and on top of the fridge is my new rice cooker called Liam. I named him that because the brand is Li-hom, which kinda sounds the same.

I've started cooking at home more because the eateries nearby get a little tired sometimes. Usually I cook Italian food, because it's refreshingly different from Korean cuisine. Korean food is good, but it doesn't vary a great deal. As someone else so eloquently put it: "Variety is the red pepper paste of life." You'll understand it after you live here a while.

Here's a shot out of the window of the local PC bang. Electrical poles in Korea are often an interesting concoction of wires and dangly bits. I've seen setups more intricate than this one.

Life in Korea is going very well. My language abilities are starting to pick up a bit after a long beginning. I still can't maintain a conversation, but I can describe things that I see or want at the level of a Korean 3 year old. But my pantomiming skills are very adept. Well, that is apart from today when I tried to describe the type of haircut I wanted to the hairdresser and ended up looking like a new recruit. Oh well, as the Koreans say "kege iseng i ya!" (that's life!).