Sunday, July 27, 2008

Boryeong Mud Festival 2008

We arrived in Boryeong late in the afternoon, checked into our hotel and wandered down to the beach. Boryeong is a small city of around 100,000 residents, but its mud festival has attracted 1.5 million visitors since it began in 1998. This success has largely been due to a clever marketing campaign that runs nationwide in the weeks leading up to the event.

There were noticeably more people and attractions than last year. This mud slide welcomes visitors to the main entrance of the beach.

The idea of the mud festival is to get covered in mud, relax and have some fun. It was a nice weekend away, and we managed to fulfill all three criteria.

One of the new additions this year was a 'Mud Prison', which you can see here in the middle of the photo. The idea is to stand inside the little room and then people from outside fling mud at you through the bars. I chose to put my camera safely away into my plastic bag at this point in time.

We got ourselves muddy and then washed off in the sea. After that we made a sandcastle. I've made a lot of sandcastles in my time, and I believe the key to making a good one is to bring some equipment like buckets and spades. But we didn't have any.

You are free to imagine what our sandcastle looked like. Or didn't look like.

It wasn't long before our grumbling stomachs drowned out the sounds of our voices so we decided to seek nourishment in the town. Many of the visitors to the mud festival were English teachers, and the town had gone to efforts to make our stay more 'homely'.

We ended up choosing an open-air seafood barbecue restaurant. At this particular restaurant they had live shellfish in aquariums and you could pay around $50 as a group of 5 people and eat an unlimited amount. You grill them over a charcoal barbecue and dip them in chilli sauce.

I remember the first time I cooked live shellfish and it was quite a shock. These days however, it only seems mildly strange. I'm still not a fan of live octopus though.

To help manipulate the tasty morsels out of their hot shells, seafood restaurants like these will issue cheap cotton gloves. The standard size proved a little too small for Erick's long tendrils.

This was a game set up at the festival during the night's activities. The idea is to knock the nail completely into the wood using only 2 hits. You'd have to have been a builder or carpenter for a few years to do it properly.

It's very difficult, but I've seen the vendors do it before. This vendor however, was not spot on the mark when challenged by a bystander. The key seems to be more about focus and confidence than brute strength.

We walked up and down the beach at night. There were some performances from Korean celebrities, but we opted to stay out of the crowded area in front of the stage.

Later in the night they had a fireworks festival. It was surprisingly impressive and much longer than the one last year. I've always been a big fan of fireworks in any shape or form. Back in middle school, I remember I used to buy firecrackers on the 'black-market' for around $2 each.

You know that when fireworks explode, it looks like they're coming towards you, right? Well I only just realised on this night that they're exploding in 3D, so if you had a more encompassing view of one, it would look like an inflating balloon. I'd love to see one in a panning Matrix-style effect one day.

Here's a video of the action, shot by Emily.

One of the few annoyances of the festival is the large number of mosquitoes in the area. Last year I was bitten dozens of times. This year there weren't so many, in part due to this council vehicle that was driving around the streets. All of that smoke coming out the back was insecticide. Probably non-lethal, but we still ran for cover to avoid being engulfed.

We arrived back in Busan late on Sunday evening. Here's one of my souvenirs from the festival that I'm posting to a friend soon. It's mud-soap, made from the silty mud in the area. Although the idea of soap is usually to make one cleaner and this seems like a bit of a contradiction, Boryeong mud is supposed to have quite a lot of mineral and cosmetic properties. They also sold mud-shampoo there.

That's all for this week. Next week I'm heading up to Seoul for the 10th GOA'L anniversary, and also to have a poke around Seoul National University. I also still need to fill you in on our past weekend to Daegu city.

See ya!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Two years in Korea

According to the little purple stamp on my passport, July 21st 2006 was when I first landed in Korea's Incheon airport. Thinking back to that time, I realise that a lot has happened since. Every once in a while I rift through my earlier blog posts and in a strange way it sometimes feels like it was somebody else who was living that life. Maybe I should lay off the beer for a while.

A couple of weeks ago it was Heather's brother-in-law's birthday. We went to a buffet restaurant in Migliore called Todai. The food was quite spectacular and some of the earlier LKB readers may remember an old post about the Di Maris buffet in Jangsan. This restaurant was quite similar, but within walking distance of my apartment.

Todai is a franchise and apparently has outlets all over the world, even in Las Vegas. Koreans love family restaurants, so chains like VIPs, TGIF, Outback Steakhouse and this one are always packed on the weekends. The restaurant has a seating capacity of around 500, but you still have to make a reservation.

Here are Heather's father, mother and niece. They don't speak any English, but these days I talk to Heather's mother on the phone in Korean for conversation practice. I still speak Korean like a toddler though.

And here's Heather's brother-in-law. I don't think he appreciates being photographed, even if it's for a celebrity appearance on Lee's Korea Blog.


Heather's niece is called Ji-Ae. She is adored by the family and spends most of her time running around and exploring.

At the Todai buffet there was a chocolate fountain that you dip skewered fruit into. Ji-Ae was very interested in licking off the chocolate, but not so interested in eating the fruit.

"Hey! Who licked all the chocolate off my fruit??"

Here is a nicely sculptured watermelon. Back in the days when I used to cook, I could cut butterflies out of carrots.

Here are some of the Hwamyeong staff who I went to dinner with a while ago. The main reason I included this picture is because that white necked bottle on the left is $60 sake (Japanese rice wine). It tasted around 10% better than $5 sake.

As the weather warms up, house parties are more common among the English teaching community. I didn't know whose house this was, but it was a good time. There were around 30 of us crammed into a single room. The cops politely asked us to leave at around 1am and we obliged.

Here are Jef's friends, Maria Kwak (top), who is a CDI trainer in Seoul and Jennifer Esterline (bottom) who is an adoptee and designs mobile phones for Nokia.

Someone recently told me that I always make that face when I pose for cameras. Is it true?

Last post I was talking about how I landed a promotion at CDI. Now I have more responsibilities and am a little busier, but I'm enjoying it overall. Now I work in the office at the human resources department and interview new teachers as well as look after the April English program. This is part of the whiteboard in our office, showing our timeline for recruiting new teachers for the fall term. We have to bring in 30 new teachers by August 25th.

Korea is a little further ahead of Australia in terms of gadgets and things. My housekey and traffic card are microchip systems, rather than the aging technology I used back home. I shot this video last week of the fingerprint identification system that deactivates the alarm at my new workplace. Much cooler and more convenient than punching in a number password.

One of my co-workers, Kelly Park has decided to escape from the chaos and travel the world with her boyfriend, Joon Son. This is their travel plan over the next few years. Amazing, isn't it?

If any readers are living in any of these destinations and would like to help out two Koreans looking for part-time work, get in touch. They're not afraid to get their hands dirty and you'll find that they are overqualified for most positions. Joon was the previous CEO of the 13 CDI schools down here.

And for me the wheels of destiny are also turning. Recently I was accepted into Seoul National University for a doctoral program in biotechnology. I had declined a PhD offer in Australia in order to come to Korea, but it has always lingered in the back of my mind. Soon I will be traveling to Seoul to have a look at the campus, but my decision still isn't final. I really like the company that I currently work for and it does have an interesting set of challenges. I get more fulfillment from a place where I'm needed, rather than a place where I'm supposed to be.
If that makes any sense.

For the meantime, I've contacted the department head at SNU and deferred the position until January. Exciting times.

Last weekend was the 2008 Boryeong Mud Festival. I went last year and blogged it, but I decided to go again this year. Shiraz Moe, a fellow teacher in Busan, was nice enough to organise the whole trip for us, including booking the hotel and coach bus. So on Saturday morning, 30 English teachers congregated at the agreed meeting place and set off for the west coast of Korea.

It was a six hour journey. Along the highways of Korea there are numerous small towns that make their living from operating large rest stops. They are all very similar and have a cafeteria, some shops and high capacity toilets. The food available is so homogeneously identical that sometimes you wonder if you've traveled far at all.

Over the course of the day, coach buses and cars will continuously stream in. The cafeterias are set up to take your order and feed you within 20 minutes, which is the standard coach bus waiting time.

Erick was rummaging through the back alleys of the convenience store and found these curious oddities. They're called Dick Sticks.

He quipped "I wouldn't know what they'd taste like. "

On the way we also stopped off at the Hite beer factory. Hite is Korea's biggest brewer and holds 55% of the market share for domestic beer products. If you look closely in this photo, that worker in the middle has a patch over his eye. He might have been a beer pirate.

A woman from the company began to take us on a tour, but she couldn't speak any English. She called out and asked if anyone could translate for her. So Emily went up to the front and began translating a whole bunch of Hite facts for us. A bottle of beer takes 30 days from start to finish and the factory produces 1000 bottles per minute.

Then we walked around the factory, with Emily still translating along the way. Although she had never been a tour guide before, no one could tell. The real tour guide would whisper the information in her ear and then she'd announce it to the crowd.

This is what we looked like. There were so many of us that the ones at the back couldn't hear anything. I don't know why Erick is smiling like that. Maybe he just ate another one of his sticks.

This is a wax sculpture of Park Ji-Sung, a Korean who plays for Manchester United. He's wildly popular amongst elementary schoolers here. He is also a spokesperson for Hite beer.
Now that's an interesting combination.

This is the factory floor, with kilometres of conveyor belts winding their way through mechanical boxes and checkpoints. The factory was closed for the day, so everything was in suspended animation.

And here's where all the action happens - the beer master control room. If you work in this room, you literally have the power to stop and start the rivers of beer as it moves around the factory. It also has alerts for when there's not enough beer, which of course would be a critical situation. I like to imagine there's a place like this somewhere in my head.

And here are the kegs, ready to be shipped off to the happy dining tables of Koreans enjoying BBQ all over the country. I forgot how many litres of beer per day they make, but it was an impressive number.

Then at the end of the tour they gave us free unlimited beer, which was nice. We all got tanked up, with the beer being much crisper than normal. When we all got on the bus later, it wasn't long before half of us were begging the bus driver for a pee stop.

Here's Emily, with a well-earned beer after her tour guiding. Hite actually tastes pretty much identical to the two other major Korean beer brands, which are Oriental Brewery and Cass.

And here's Heather posing with her beer. She's saying to the LKB readers "A Hite a day keeps the doctor away."

In the same area they were selling this shirt, of which I bought the last one. It contains an interesting misprint and reads "Let's drink fresh teste of the Hite. Hite is our new good friend." I don't know how much of a good friend I am, but I don't have that kind of devotion. We actually told the lady behind the counter what it translated to and she was surprised. I think they'll fix it up for the next print run.

And here we are at the end of a long day of factory-touring. In the background is a wax sculpture of Jang-dong Gwan, a famous Korean movie actor.

I'll split this post up so that it wouldn't be too long. When I have time next I'll pick up where I left off and continue with the rest of the Mud Festival weekend.

See you soon!