Friday, October 27, 2006

3 Months in Korea

Well it's been 3 months since I touched down at Incheon airport. A lot has happened in that time and Australia seems so far away now, but in a way it also feels like things have gone by strangely fast. It's funny how time is like that.

Recently the annual Pusan International Film Festival took place in the city. It's the largest film festival in Asia and attracts visitors from all over the world. The main gate was on Haeundae beach and was constructed from shipping containers welded together.

There were movies showing at various locations around the city, with people passing through the various displays and buying tickets. Many of the movies sold out on the first day the tickets were available, so it was difficult for us to get our hands on some. Next year I'll book in early through the internet, which seems to be the best way.

Jef and I went early one morning to try and get tickets for a movie, but they sold out before we got there. So we bought the last two tickets to another movie that we didn't have a clue about. It was a Singaporean animation called "Zodiac - The Race Begins". What did we think of the it? Well it was a kind of fusion of some really bad Disney and Bollywood, but sterilised beyond recognition. I don't think it will be getting a public release, so you have all been spared.

We ended up back in the Jagalchi fish markets another day. I've stared at the live seafood shops for hours. It's not just the seafood itself that's interesting, it's the way the shop ladies hand it out to customers. There's a lot of skill involved in getting a large writhing octopus into a shopping bag.

These dried tentacles are from giant squid and were over a metre long. The suckers on the ends are lined with little spikey teeth. The lady behind the stand was a bit disappointed that we didn't purchase any and displayed her dissatisfaction by baring her gold teeth at us. I'm not really sure how you're supposed to eat them.

In this photo you can see flounder, salmon and some stripey fish that I don't know the name of. This is at the front of a restaurant and if you stand still for more than 15 seconds, one of the ajummas will come out and start pulling your arm. A couple of lines of English will get them to stop, after which they'll usually give you a startled look and then have a fit of hysteric laughter. Well, that's if you look Korean.

Here's Amanda and Meaghan inspecting some king crabs. I've eaten these back in Australia and they're not bad. I think the blue swimmer crabs are a bit tastier though. These aquariums don't have lids on them because the crabs are too heavy to lift themselves out. Sometimes you'll see legs half dangling out and from a long way away it looks like an alien hand.

This is one of our favourite local bbq places. Around 50% of restaurants in the area are like this, but we like the lady at this one because she cuts up our meat for us and teaches us Korean.

One of our newer discoveries have been micro-breweries. There are a couple of them around Seomyeon and they usually have a couple of their own light ales available. The atmosphere at these places is a little more relaxed and the food is a little better than at the average watering hole.

Plastic surgery is pretty big in Korea and there are some humourous advertisements in the subway. Here's Meaghan posing next to one.

Here are my students talking with Ji-Hae during break. Elementary school students can be a little noisy sometimes, but in general they study a lot harder than I ever did at that age. Last weekend I gave an English presentation to their parents about the lessons we teach. That was interesting.

A while back, we went for a walk in the mountains near us. From our area it's only a ten minute walk and there are some picnic areas and nice views along the way. This is an exercise circuit set up for the general public about halfway up one of the trails. You can often see old ladies doing exercises to varying degrees of intensity. A lot of them like to walk and clap their hands at the same time.

You can see these little grassy mounds in all sorts of nooks and crannies around the mountains. They're burial mounds, marking the graves of the deceased. You'd think it would get a little creepy, but actually they're quite pleasant to look at.

This is a flower I took a photo of. I'm not much of a botanist but I appreciate plants. And I like salad.

And this is my macro shot of a praying mantis. I nearly stepped on it when we were coming back down. In Australia, they're usually green.

Dong-eui University is also close to us and built into the mountains. The whole campus is on a steep slope and it's challenging to walk from one end to the other. I heard it was built like that because slopey space is cheaper. This is a water garden they have in the middle.

There were large carp swimming in the water too. It had a really peaceful atmosphere to it. The guy whose head you can see on the bottom was filming a video.

This is the view of Busan from halfway up the Dong-eui University campus. There's more Busan on the other side of those mountains.

I think our school branch is going pretty well. On Thursday Donna, the boss in the white shirt, took all the staff out for a pork party. The only thing I like more than a pork party is free alcohol to go with it.

A lot of small eateries in Busan are attached to the house of the owners. Often you'll see them lying down inside and watching tv or something. Sometimes they're fast asleep, but jump to their feet when you make some noise. This is a place just around the corner from the school that's really small and feels cosy like a dining room. You can get noodles for $2.

And here are my kalguksu noodles, cheap, fast and delicious. I eat a lot of dishes like this for lunch. A humble meal for a humble man.

Oh well that's all for this time. Cyas!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

All about Busan

Life is going remarkably well. I've started clicking into the routine of working life, but teaching remains fun and challenging. I'm teaching six days a week but the hours are good and I still get enough time to leave the neighbourhood during the week.

There are quite a few scenic beaches in Busan, the most famous being Haeundae beach. Around the corner from Haeundae, within walking distance, is the Gwangali beach area which I think is equally as impressive. The area seems a little older but is still busy, with plenty of restaurants to eat at and large bars with good views of the surroundings.

The biggest feature of the area is the Gwangali bridge, a huge construction that runs across the harbour. It's the biggest bridge in Korea and runs for several kilometres. At night it lights up in different colours and they have firework shows on it for special occasions.

On the beaches of Korea you can also buy fireworks from street vendors. I was always excited by fireworks when I was younger, but back in Australia you need a special license to buy them and you can only use them on a specific night. Those sorts of laws are more relaxed over here, another example is that motorbike riders don't need to wear helmets at all.

Also in the area are undercover fish markets that sell a delightful range of apparently edible marine life. Everything is sold live, and the vendors really push you to make a purchase. Here's one lady I met, holding a live octopus for me to photograph. I'm a little freaked out by the concept of holding an octopus, but in the markets here the ladies pick up huge ones and have no qualms about wrenching the tentacles off their fingers.

That day my new Korean friend, Hyeju and I went to eat at a sushi restaurant. The prices are a little expensive but all the fish is plucked live from a tank. I still feel a little guilty about feeding on the recently deceased, but when I think about it I guess it's a little narrow minded because all my meat eating habits contribute to the death of something somewhere.

As a side dish they also gave us live octopus. They chop the octopus on a board and put it on a plate with sesame oil. The chopped tentacles writhe for a long time and the suction caps still work. I tried it after summoning enough digestive constitution and it was quite interesting. Foreign objects moving of their own accord in your mouth is a truly alien experience. I chewed fast.

I made a short video of the dish and uploaded it to Youtube for your perusal. You can view it here:

The view from the restaurant was nice. Virtually all of the places open are restaurants, bars or convenience stores. I'm hoping to go back sometime soon.

There was a really small amusement park in the area called Me World or something. It had a couple of rides in it like this one, but the place felt like it had seen it's heyday back in the eighties or something. Some of the sidestalls had prizes in them, but no attendants. There's a more modern amusement park in Busan somewhere but I haven't had a chance to see it yet.

On another weekend we went to Nampo-dong, an area where you can see the Jagalchi fish markets. These are the biggest fish markets in Korea and are worth a visit if you come down this way. The place smells very very fishy. I thought I knew what fishy smelled like, but this place redefined the scent for me.

The open stalls are mainly staffed by women who shout out their special prices in an interesting specific local dialect. You can buy live sea cucumbers, pilot whale meat and curious deep sea fish all pretty easily here. And they have plenty of octopus too, some of them were about a metre long. You can buy them alive at that size if you like wrestling with a mass of tentacles. The market ladies here seem to enjoy it.

This month they're having the annual Jagalchi Fish Festival here. Events include oyster opening races and live eel skinning competitions. There's a lot of festivals going on this month so I might not get to see all of them.

The surrounding harbour area is full of old and new boats. Some of them are rusty and look a little unseaworthy so it gives the place a little character.

The Nampo-dong markets nearby are huge and sell things in a similar way to the Namdaemun markets in Seoul. This is a specialty kim chi shop, where you can buy a huge variety of different pickled vegetables. Kim chi is served with nearly all traditional Korean meals and different shops have slightly different variations. I tend to think that the supermarket stuff is the best, so perhaps my kim chi instinct hasn't matured yet.

This is Busan tower, which was built in the seventies and overlooks the harbour area and surrounding districts. We visited it at night and it seemed more impressive than it would in the daytime.

The pagoda you could see in the previous picture houses this large town bell. It was financed by donations from the public and they ring it every new year. You can't ring it any other time because it has a padlock on the ringer. Not that I was entertaining such mischief.

At the top of the tower the windows were a little dirty but it was still a nice view. This is a shot of the harbour area, the biggest harbour in Korea and the third largest container harbour in the world.

And here are the busy shopping districts at night. We walked along some of these streets to reach the tower.

This is the millenium sculpture in the middle of a street intersection in Nampo-dong. You can sit on little stone seats around it and take in the atmosphere. Cars and people flow past like a bubbling creek and when you sit here it feels like you're strangely removed from it all.

Here is my new language exchange friend, Hyeju. One day I went up for a walk to the nearby university and asked the language department secretary if they had any language exchange programs going. She said no, but it sounded like an interesting idea. Hyeju is that secretary. We meet up every week now and she's slowly teaching me the language, while I'm telling her about various random things that I know about the world.

I still go out to bars with co-workers from time to time, but not as often as before. This is a bar called New York and it's one of our favourites. They do a fire spinning show on certain days and I'll try and get a video of it sometime.

Yesterday I went with some of my co-workers on a hike up a nearby mountain. We live about ten minutes away from it. Along the way you can see picnic areas and badminton courts. I'll probably buy some racquets soon. At the top there is a road lined with these flowers. It's a nice walk and has a European feel to it.

Because I'm teaching during the week, I only get out and about on the weekends so have less things to blog about. I'm starting to get over the novelty of being in Korea, but it's still a fascinating place. I'll try and keep an update at least once every two weeks.

So that's it for me this time. I leave you with this nice picture of the sign outside our local hairdresser. I hope you're all having a good time, wherever you may be. Seeyas!