Monday, April 28, 2008

Odds and Ends

We just arrived back from Jeju Island yesterday (Sunday) and had a good time there. I'll upload those photos and share them with you when I have some spare time. This post is a little shorter and covers the week before we left.
Unfortunately for that particular weekend I left my camera at the hagwon, which was a little silly of me. So half of these photos were taken by friends and associates who I've tracked down on Facebook.

Jordan and Michelle have always had a nice rooftop on their apartment building, so for Tyler's birthday they decided to hold a rooftop barbecue party. It was a nice spring afternoon with a light breeze and plenty of sunshine. Photo: Nicole Kalisz

Here's the view looking west. Saha is the furthest suburb on this side of the city but a good public transport system puts everything within reach. Our school branch is just off the photo to the left. Photo: Nicole Kalisz

Jordan and Michelle have always been great hosts, holding quite a few dinners for everyone in the past. We took a portable barbecue upstairs and Jordan grilled chicken skewers and hamburger patties, while the rest of us looked on. Jordan drank light beer while he was cooking, which has long been part of an unwritten code for those who take on the burden of cooking at barbecues. My respect to those who do. Photo: Theresa Nicolai

We started at 3pm in the afternoon which was nice for a change. But that meant we were a little tipsy by sundown. Evidently we were a little jovial for this particular photo and it appears that I had finished eating by this time. Photo: Niko Davis

The very next day at 9:30 am, we went on a charity run for breast cancer research. CDI South put together a small team to represent. Here we are at Millak station, although the reason we met at this particular location still eludes me. Note the pretty flowers and brick wall in the background. Photo: Jareb Steines

I don't exercise these days due to time restraints, but I used to jog fairly regularly. I ran in the 10km and pushed myself. In the end I got a time of 1 hour and 1 minute. But for the next two days I had difficulty walking and transferring from a standing position to a sitting position. Now I feel okay though. Photo: Maya Son

Our Korean school had a special cooking lesson on Thursday last week. We're nearing the end of the term and it's been good, but I'm looking forward to getting some more free time in my schedule. We went to a cooking school out in Dongnae.

Back in the day I used to be a restaurant cook for a lot of my high school and university years. I've been a bit out of practice in Korea but the cooking instincts still remain. One of the first things I want to do when I get back to Australia is to walk back into my old kitchen and feel the weight of a decent wok in my hand again. I used to work 6 nights a week in that kitchen, saving up the money to come to Korea.

Good times.

We were split into smaller groups and divided the tasks up accordingly. On the left is Anna, a Chinese student from our other level 3 class, and on the right is Ge-Ge, who is the only Mongolian student in the school. She's also the only Mongolian I've ever met.

It seems that digital cameras became a standard inventory item for everyone sometime ago. This girl was cycling through six cameras to take photos while her friends were cooking. I remember the days when I used to wind on my disposable cameras and get photos back from the developer that were a little less pleasing than I expected.

This was the end product of our toils, chapchae, which is a noodle dish made with beef, vegetables and clear mung bean noodles. Koreans will often eat this dish during festive times. It tasted pretty good for a group effort. We also made seafood pancakes.

Here we are enjoying our concoctions. It was actually a lot more fun than I expected.

This is a video I made of my classmates reading the dialogue that they wrote for class. Our teacher is recording them with an MP3 player. The entire class is taught in Korean but I can manage fairly well these days. Learning Korean remains one of the most difficult things I've ever encountered. It will be an ongoing process.

And here are some of my students. These boys are naughty at times but generally in good spirits. The one closest to the photo recently requested that his English name be changed to 'Farrand'. I granted his request, but it was interesting, because it coincidentally happens to be my surname. When I asked him how he thought up that name he told me that it's a secret.

Anyway, I'll be posting up the trip from Jeju when I have time.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jinhae Cherry Blossoms

Every year for about 2 weeks in the spring, a cherry blossom festival is held in Jinhae, a town about 1.5 hours out of Busan. You may remember that we went to Jinhae about a year ago, when Skipper took us to have a look around. I was keen to go back, as it's one of the nicest seaside towns in Korea.

We took a coach bus from Busan at an ungodly hour of morning, to avoid the rush. It was a good decision because by early afternoon, the roads coming into the town were piled up with traffic for several kilometres. South Korea has nearly double the population of Australia.

Once in the town, we simply followed the crowds and ended up catching another bus which took us to this large carpark. One would assume that there would only be one festival at a time in a small town like Jinhae.

Apparently not so. It soon dawned on us that this particular gathering of people was not for cherry blossoms, but for a navy exhibition. There were a few information stands around and some displays, like this old search-and-rescue plane. We wandered around for a bit, even though learning more about Korean naval history was not our original endeavour. One may as well make the most of every situation.

This is a geobukseon, or turtle ship. It was a famous Korean invention and this replica was rebuilt with the help of historians. Originally the dragon head at the front contained a device for creating a smoke screen.

We walked around and soon found what we were looking for. Cherry blossoms are quite nice because all of the trees blossom within the same short time of year and shed petals so frequently that it looks like snow. They were all over the town, lining almost every street including those of the naval exhibition carpark.

Here are some of the happy chaps that accompanied Heather and me. On the right is Min-Hyo, who you may or may not remember from Jef's birthday, then An-An who studies Korean at the same school as me, and next to her is Emily. Randall and Cara from the Hwamyeong branch also came along.

You don't need to be a talented photographer to get good looking photos of cherry blossoms. This picture makes a good desktop background if your old one is getting dusty.

So after we meandered around the carpark, we headed back to the town centre to try and locate the cherry blossom festival. Although there were cherry blossoms everywhere, there was apparently a focal point for it somewhere in the city. Most locals didn't know what we were talking about though and kept directing us around in circles.

After an hour of walking around we finally found it. This stream area was what we had heard about. It was in a quieter part of town but worth the walk.

Here's Heather and her twin sister posing for the camera. When they were young, it was difficult to tell them apart in photos. These days it's a lot easier because they like to style themselves differently. You will never see them in matching outfits.

Heather picked out that jumper for me. These days she chooses a lot of my clothes because she has better taste. She also knows all of my sizes, which I haven't learned yet.

After crossing a small bridge we came across this mule. They're funny animals.

The sign around its neck informs people that you can sit on it and have your photo taken for 300 won (30 cents). Randall told me that every year they have an 'Eeyore's Birthday Party' somewhere in America and everyone goes wild.

It wasn't long before Cara jumped on. She's from Texas, so that's probably why she didn't need any help. In an instant she swung her legs over the mule like a kung-fu hero and surprised the owner who wanted to bring her a stool to stand on. Even the mule was as surprised as a mule could be.

We walked around the town a little more and ate lunch. This is a large bin full of cabbage, ready for the next stage in the kimchi preparation process. Koreans eat so much kimchi that they have to import cabbage from China to keep up with demand. I eat it just about everyday.

The next weekend we went out to Tongdosa, an area north of Busan for a bonding trip. These gatherings occur every so often for the administration and management staff at our company and their purpose is to strengthen the network between branches. I was invited because Heather is the vice-branch manager at Hwamyeong. They lit this fire in the middle of a soccer field to start the night's activities.

There were various competitions run by a special corporate bonding company which were interesting. People were invited (aggressively) to come up to the stage and perform in front of everyone. Here's the Busanjin staff singing a song. I won a $5 internet voucher for dancing rather poorly in front of everyone.

Before long the ante was raised and larger mobs of people were getting in on the action. It lasted for a few hours and was fairly entertaining.

The food was good and included all the staples of a Korean buffet like pork ribs, raw fish and sea-snail soup. Whenever food is laid out in front of hungry Korean girls, they will undoubtedly use the exclamation "Masshigetta!" which literally means "It's going to be delicious". They will say this continuously in 1 minute intervals until they get to eat.

Then came the real bonding. The company had ordered copious amounts of alcoholic beverages for us to consume at our leisure. We stayed up for hours eating, talking and playing drinking games.

In Korea, there are many variations of different drinking games. In general they require a little bit of skill and a lot of luck, and are designed to get people tipsy a lot faster than normal.
This is a game called 'Baskin Robbins 31'. It's a little difficult to explain, but basically it's a counting game, where the inevitable conclusion is that someone will have to drink when they are forced to count the number 31. Players can affect the outcome to some degree and the loser has to drink a metal bowl full of beer.

The next day we woke up and someone decided it was a good idea to go for a hike. So up the mountain we went.

Luckily we didn't have to go too far. The scenery was quite nice because the colours of spring are coming out. It was nice to get out of the city for a while and although I didn't sleep much, it was an interesting trip.

Next weekend I'm going to Jeju Island, so I'll let you know how that goes. The Saha work blog is coming along nicely, with a couple of posts from the other teachers arriving. If you haven't already, check out the link on the list to see what's going on at the branch.

See you next time!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Birthdays and Another Aquarium

When our branch first opened 8 months ago, there were 3 teachers and 5 administration staff. We've been expanding steadily since then and now have 11 teachers and 6 admin. Our enrolments have settled to around 300 students, but we're aiming for 350.

Recently we had a staff dinner to celebrate our expansion. Seated here are all of the current Saha staff, minus me who took the photo. Dinners like these are always a good time to spin a yarn or two.

Here's me and Liz, who is an Australian adoptee from Sydney. She recently joined us as an April English teacher with her husband Simon. Liz was originally a reader of this blog back home, and after some correspondence between us, she ended up getting a job at the same branch. One day you might be working with me too!

The following day was Heather's birthday. We had dinner with some colleagues before heading off to the Pusan National University area, known as PNU in local lingo. In this photo Heather is posing with the necklace I bought her.
A pretty necklace for a pretty girl. Hoho.

We ate at a restaurant on Mount Keumjeong, where they sell goat meat as a delicacy. Although it's fairly close to the city, apparently this is the only area that will sell it in restaurants. I ate goat meat before in Australia because I used to live with a French flatmate whose friend liked hunting in the Australian outback. One day he showed up at the flat with the remains of a feral goat he had shot. We ended up cooking it with red wine sauce.
Goat meat is tasty, fairly chewy and similar to beef.

Then the following weekend it was Jef's birthday. I remember coming down on the bus with him from Seoul after training. Eighteen months later and we're still both here and going strong. Jef wanted to eat at an Italian place in Kyungsung-dae, which turned out to be quite nice. Although it was more authentic than the average Italian restaurant here, you will always be served with sweet pickles as a side dish. It's the substitute for the ubiquitous kimchi banchan. For some reason Koreans prefer the sweet spiced pickle over the arguably more delicious Polski ogorki. Give me the latter any day.

After that we went to the Kino-eye bar, a place with a cinematic theme to it. Jef had organised an extended happy hour for everyone. Are they all girls at his table? Well, yes.
Jef is tall and witty, hence being very popular with the ladies. Nearly as popular as me.


On the right is my new friend from Pusan University, Min-Hyo. We speak a mixture of Korean and English to each other and get along well. He brought his friend along and we enjoyed some Long Islands together. Korean university students will generally choose Korean beer and soju over more pricey Western spirits.

And then in the wee hours of the morning we gathered a small crowd and went for some late supper. I think there needs to be a new name for the meal eaten at this time (between the hours of 3am and 6am, but before you have slept). It's not really a supper and it sure isn't breakfast.
Nestled in the blur of this photo is Maya, a Korean-American who recently joined the company. Here she's displaying the appropriate dispensal method of toilet paper after a minor spillage of alcohol at the table. There are numerous techniques for doing so.

Remember when I took you to the COEX Aquarium in Seoul all those months ago? Well it was only until last weekend that I ended up visiting Busan's very own aquarium in Haeundae. It's a little smaller than COEX, but is owned by some Australians from Queensland. Heather and I decided to visit on an otherwise lazy Sunday afternoon.

The tanks were big enough. I once saw a documentary on how they manufacture the glass for large aquarium windows. It's a complicated process.

Heather thinks these fish are ugly. I'm not sure what the purpose of the fleshy forehead is, but I think it looks kind of nice and reminds me of mandarin flesh.

Most of the fish were similar to the ones in COEX, so I'll spare you the details this time. These stripey eels were new though. Stripes can mean many things in the animal kingdom, but it usually means 'stay away from me please'.

Some cabbage eating tortoises. They would look nice in a knitted tea cosy.

This tank spanned two floors with double viewing platforms. It was designed to show the depth differences between the surface and bottom feeders. I liked the shimmering effect of the lights.

'Jellyfish' in Korean is haepari which literally means sea-fly. These ones were swimming around a fluorescently lit tank in a mildly mesmorising fashion. I stared at them for around 5 minutes. Those ones at the top seemed to have tangled themselves up and were all trying to swim in different directions. That's why you need to keep your tentacles to yourself.

Similar to the COEX Aquarium, there was also a walkthrough tube with sharks and turtles swimming overhead.

These kids were looking at the Haeundae display, a car that had been converted into an aquarium with large goldfish inside.

Since coming to Korea my eyesight has slowly gone fuzzy. According to Wikipedia it's because my eye's crystalline lens has lost elasticity resulting in a limited ability to change focus. So I went to the angwa, or opthamologist, for a diagnosis. It ended up that my sight wasn't all that bad, but I now have these particular glasses for when I need them. My eye test and glasses together cost me less than $100, but if I wanted the cheapest frames, it would have only cost a mere $30.

Maybe I need glasses because I'm studying too much these days. I go to Korean school on weekday mornings for 4 hours before heading off to work. Here is Ratana, one of my classmates, who I studied with back in the fall term last year. He's a Sri-Lankan Buddhist monk who lives at the Taejongdae temple. I asked him what he does in his spare time, and he said he likes to surf the net. Sometime soon he'll be visiting this website. Hi Ratana!

Sending us off this week are the students of my English Chip 3 class. They're a noisy bunch but full of energy and fast learners. It's always good to teach a few younger classes because they remind you how much fun it was before you really knew about the world.

That's all for this time! Spring has slowly started to arrive, so it's high time for some more outdoor activities.