Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gyeongju by Scooter

Over the past couple of weeks I've been out and about in various places. The new school term started at our branch and we also have a new teacher. I'll introduce you guys in a bit.

It was John's birthday a few weeks ago. He's the guy sitting in the white shirt on the left. This shot was taken later in the night when most people had gone home. Singing what may or may not have been a Backstreet Boys song in the foreground is Tim, with the appropriate facial expression. We ended up going home after a free breakfast at the casino that night.

But it all started off as a larger gathering of people, some of whom were enjoying a 4-player Halo 3 tournament at our apartment. That's a good way to start off any party, really.

Then we headed out for dinner at a dakgalbi restaurant. Dakgalbi is a fried rice and chicken dish cooked and served on your table.You choose the basic recipe and can add cheese, rice cake and other things to it. The waiters will stir-fry it for you until it's ready and our waiter made it into a loveheart at the end for the birthday boy.

Here's a video of the waiter at work. By this time it was smelling pretty good.

After dinner we went to a room at a booking club. Booking clubs are places to meet single people in Korea and are usually rather expensive. This one was no exception. It's usually best to pre-drink at a convenience store around the corner first.

The booking clubs, called naiteu in Korean (konglish for 'night'), sometimes put on stage shows with dancers. I made a video of this one too, but unfortunately the quality was not sufficiently Lee's Korea Blog-worthy.

And not long after John's birthday came Yang-min's. He's also there in a white birthday shirt and is married to a Canadian teacher at our company. Next week he's heading off to Canada with her to travel for a couple of months with their baby daughter. In this photo he's about to cut his cake in the reception area of my new branch.

Later that night we ended up at O'Brien's, the Irish bar near my old school. Yang-min is a fan of Irish Car Bombs, which are cocktails we introduced him to earlier in the year. For the first round, we lined up nine of them. It was a good night.

Last weekend the teachers from the Saha branch headed out to Gyeongju, an old city north of Busan. There were a lot of historical things to see like tombs, temples and museums, but I forgot my camera. These photos were taken by my co-workers. In Gyeongju, hiring a scooter for a day will cost you about twenty dollars. So all of us hopped on them and cruised around the city. It was freezing cold but a whole lot of fun. I'd highly recommend it. Photo: Nicole Kalisz

This is the Saha branch representing (themselves). 'Represent' is a catch-word that my American counterparts here like to use and it's starting to rub off on me. Everytime we go out together, someone will yell out 'Saha-Gu REPRESENT!', at least once or twice. In this photo we're posing in the carpark of a museum in Gyeongju. That's me on the right with Heather on the back.

The funny thing about hiring these scooters (which were brand new) was that the man who lent them to us didn't ask us to sign anything. He just took my identification and wanted us back by 7pm. He also told us to not get hurt because there was no insurance. Back in Australia, that would be considered reckless, but in Korea it's just 'mildly questionable'. Photo: Nicole Kalisz

The museum complex was pretty good but too much to see in one day. Here's a huge bell from the Shilla dynasty hanging in a specially-built structure. It weighs 30 tons and will resonate for over a minute if you gong it. We weren't allowed to gong it. Photo: Logan Fry

After that we went to Bulguksa Temple, one of the largest and most beautiful temple complexes in Korea. A lot of the structures in the complex are centuries old and the foundations were made by master stonemasons. Photo: Logan Fry

And then we came home by coach bus and ended up in Vinyl Underground, a western nightclub in Kyungsung. During the middle of the night we got a little tipsy and uninhibited. That's Logan and me up there dancing on the stage. Photo: Logan Fry

It's always nice to get some culture of a different kind, which is why I always say 'yes please' when Heather asks me out to one of these kinds of things. This is an orchestral performance by the Ukrainian National Orchestra in the same place we went to a few blogposts back. It was pretty good, partly because one of the percussionists misplaced his music sheet and spent some of the performance conspicuously wandering around and looking for it.

This is Andrew and his Korean wife on the day of their wedding two weeks ago. Andrew is the Australian half-owner of the O'Brien's pub and has been living here for five years. Recently he opened up another bar in Jangsan. He decided to tie the knot and after the wedding he opened up his bar for free drinks. Right now, he and his wife are honeymooning in the Maldives. How's that for a happy story?

Makchang is fast becoming a staple food of the Saha Branch. It's a barbecue type affair, in which you cook up marinated pig's intestines. Makchang is actually the large intestine of the pig, while gopchang is the small intestine. You then wrap it up in a leaf and eat it with garlic. I didn't like it the first time I tried it, but it grew on me. It tastes much better than it sounds. I've never met anyone here who hasn't tried it twice and not liked it.

On the left there is Nicole, our new teacher from New York. She's settled in pretty nicely, evident in the fact that she likes makchang already. She used to teach middle-schoolers in New York and has the necessary attitude to whip our little Korean students into academic powerhouses.

On the right is Christine, my new Korean tutor who works at the branch. I graduated from Korean school at the university with an 80% score which got me into Level 3, but I didn't enrol again because of timetabling difficulties. Now Christine is teaching me in the mornings and I'm paying her the same fee.

I'd never really known anything about American football until John started watching it on his computer. There's a small footballing community here in Korea and we went along to see a game. On the field in this photo are the Seoul and Busan teams, who had nearly identical uniforms.

Do you remember Mr Incredible from Halloween night? That's him right there, proudly sporting a Busan team jersey. Busan ended up beating Seoul by a ridiculous score (23 - 0?) and now they're in the finals. Hooray for Busan!

We just finished the first term at the new branch and went out to celebrate last Friday. This is from our company-sponsored dinner at a barbecue restaurant. Free food and alcohol are always enjoyable. Posing in the yellow is Julie, our super enthusiastic branch manager.

Here's a leaf wrap that I prepared for John. I remember when I first came to Korea I couldn't construct them properly and bits kept falling out onto my clothes. Now I'm a master engineer and can make works of culinary art. If you're ever out eating with me in Korea, I'll make one for you.

Here's some more thoughtful English in a noraebang in Seomyeon. What always amazes me is that they'll write these kinds of phrases anywhere, without checking whether it makes sense. Maybe it does make sense, in an abstract Korean way.

It says "I wake up to the sound. I fall a sleep purposely..'

And saying goodbye for us this week are two of my upper level reading students, Tony and Ben. On the last day of term I gave them a gymnastic task using a blind that fell off the window. You're supposed to step through the hole made by your arms, twice, without letting go and in the same direction. I did it once to show them but they couldn't do it, despite their best efforts. I know that Tony reads this blog so all I have to say is "Haha to you Tony, Mr Lee is more flexible than you!"

See you next time!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Halloween and a Kitten

This is the latest addition to our household, a 2 month old kitten. Her Korean name is 삼순이, but her English name is Cat Farrand-Ngo.

Cute, no?

We'll talk more about her later.

Although I've been in Busan for a year now, I'd never got around to visiting 'Little Texas' or Foreigners Street' which is near the harbour. It's a blend of multicultural themes, kind of like a rainbow chinatown and it has a seedy reputation for being frequented by individuals who like seedy areas. What does that mean? I'm not entirely sure.

There's a fairly large Russian population in the city and I've never had much contact with Russian culture in general. Russian writing reminds me of Greek.

We ate in a Russian restaurant and I was expecting some stroganoff, but apparently that's not the only thing they eat in Russia. Our lunch consisted of potatoes and chicken, in a minimalist-style cooking approach. It was alright.

John and I decided to buy a television to compliment our newly enlarged living quarters. After investigating the options, we ended up buying a brand new 42 inch plasma screen. It's awesome. In Korea, electronics are cheaper because of companies like LG and Samsung. This one cost us 1.4 million Korean won, or about US$1500 (and that's with the new exchange rate). The equivalent model would be about double the price back home.

In this photo, Tim is playing Halo 3 online through an X-Box 360 modem, while John is using wireless internet on his laptop. We broadcast our public wi-fi signal 24 hours a day, so that anybody nearby can use it for free. Our apartment has an excessive amount of connectivity, throughout the different rooms there are 4 cable TV and 10 modem ports built into the walls. We only ever need to use one of each.

Halloween was never really celebrated in Australia and I was always under the impression that there was supposed to be a spooky theme to all the costumes. Apparently not. Jef and Elissa hosted this party and there were a variety of ingenius outfits. In the foreground there is John, as a giant piece of kimbap. Holding the large silver spoon and dressed up like a dog at the back is Austen, whose costume was 'dog soup'.

Here's Geoff, an American football player and English teacher who dressed up as Mr Incredible. He's a very friendly guy and actually went to his class like this to surprise the kids. Later on in the night he got a little drunk and ran onto the road pretending to push back trucks and cars that were waiting at the traffic lights.

After my first real Halloween party, I was able to conclude that it was all simply an excuse to dress up and drink a lot. We'd do that often in Australia anyway, just without the dressing up part.

My outfit, at minimal cost, was ilban-sureggi (or 'general rubbish') man. In Korea you have to buy special waste bags to dispose of general rubbish, as opposed to food waste or recyclables. I put some armholes into a 50-litre one and sticky-taped some examples of general waste to it. But this guy on the left seemed to do it much better. One of those plastic bottles was actually filled with alcohol that he was drinking. He told me his name, but at parties like this I tend to forget these things for some reason.

And here he is getting into a taxi to the second venue, after a considerable amount of effort.

The second venue was the PNU area, where there were a variety of costume parties. One of our friends won a $100 bar tab.

A friend of a friend found a dead stray cat on the side of the road one day, with three kittens meowing next to it. So he put them in a box and took them home. He was looking for new owners and we ended up taking one. I've always been more of a dog person myself, but after a few days with a kitten, I've come to appreciate the feline species a lot more. Her Korean name (Sam-Soon Li), comes from a tv show character. She's very cute.
The cat, that is.

She's very friendly and playful. I managed to clip her nails (with a notable amount of kitten-protest) the other day and so she's destroying our materials slightly less now. She is already toilet-trained and meows like a squeaky door when she's hungry. She also meows when she finishes eating, just to let us know.

An interesting biological feature of kittens is when you pick them up by the scruff of the neck. This can be safely done up to a few months of age, and is usually done by the mother when they need to be moved somewhere. Whenever we pick her up like this, she turns her head on the side and keeps completely still, until you put her down. She also tucks her feet up like a little bunny rabbit, which I would assume is so that they don't drag on the ground. It's a useful mechanism to exploit when she suddenly starts chewing on the cushions.

One of the dishes I've been recently warming to is dwae-ji-guk-bap. It's basically a pork soup, with a whole lot of strange looking pork pieces in it. It's really good. I've been finding that a lot of the food I eat nowadays is completely different to what I typically ate in the first few months here.

Aquariums in front of restaurants still grab my attention. These octopi were unusually large. If you buy a live octopus from the fish markets, they just put it in a shopping bag for you and you take it home while it constantly tries to escape its doom.

Arriving at the hakwon one day, I saw these abseiling window-washers cleaning our windows. One of my long-standing daydreams has always been to give this job a try. You'd get to peer into people's offices while enjoying nice views of the city.

These guys weren't using any real safety equipment, just an adjustable plank to sit on. And below them was no warning sign if they dropped something. If you think that's dangerous, you should see the construction workers here. They just walk around on scaffolding 10 stories high without any safety equipment. Other times you'll be walking on the street and all of a sudden a gaping hole in the sidewalk will appear, without fencing around it, just a couple of witches hats. Korea in general has a more 'watch out for yourself' policy. On the whole, I think it's a good thing, considering all the lawsuits that go on back home over very common-senseless incidents, and the ridiculously high cost of public liability insurance.

Korean school has been going really well. We're approaching the end of the term soon, when we'll graduate and have a holiday. I've learned a fair bit, but it will be nice to have a break. This is from one of the special events we had last week. We took an excursion out on the campus and had an outdoor lesson for hangeul (Korean writing script) day.

This is a shirt that Ki-woo, the student in front of me at Korean school wears sometimes. It always makes me ponder. The writing says "Motionless-message: I have 'aiways' thought so".

Hmm, me too.

Saying goodbye to the Lee's Korea Blog readers this week are the Chungdahm Institute administration staff, at Michelle and Jordan's housewarming party.

They're saying: See you next time!