Sunday, November 16, 2008

Insadong

Insadong (인사동) is a district in Seoul that specialises in crafts and "traditional" Korean merchandise, at least that's what the shopkeepers keep telling us. You have to watch out for the peddlers in this area because they are very good at getting you to buy things. Take the incident today, for example, in which an old man selling persimmons graciously offered the three of us free samples, and then guilted us into buying one more each. "Five hundred won" he mumbled. We had a brief glance at each other, knowing we'd been suckered, but what the hell. "Sure", "OK", "All right then". He got the persimmons out as we got out our wallets. "One thousand won," he said, as he passed us the fruit. Everything happened so fast that we didn't realise how good this guy was at tricking foreigners. "You old fox," said Anthony. We collectively decided we'd rather pay a dollar than get into an argument with this guy for 10 minutes, but we knew full well he was a dirty sneak.

Anyway, for those of you who receive presents from me, this is where I got them. This is dammit-what-do-I-get-mom-for-Christmas central. I would love to tell you what I bought today but that would ruin the surprise. Apart from the shopping, there are lots of cool other places here that attract foreigners. We went to an exhibit of Buddha art, which was really cool (photos below) and there is also a big shopping complex that has a very interesting spiral design (you can walk to the top simply by continuing along the ring of shops, because the floor is always slightly inclined.. making it sort of like one giant floor coiled around itself). And also, lots of free samples of food, nice restaurants, really lovely little teahouses, and old men that trick you into buying persimmons.

I took a lot of photos today. The subway was disgustingly crowded.. it was like standing in a Frenchman's armpit for an hour.



























The next few photos after these are of the Buddha art exhibit we went to. Lots and lots of interesting paintings and statues. The one that captured our attention was the red painting of the twelve Chinese Zodiac animals having a massive free-for-all with a variety of weapons. We agreed that the Horse seemed the most self-composed, the Rooster was surprisingly aggressive and the Snake appeared to be getting stabbed to death by the Dragon. It sounds grisly but it's actually a very delightful painting. I was happy to see that the Tiger appeared to be going absolutely berserk, and we also noted that the Rabbit (Anthony) appeared to be fleeing the battleground.

















The gigantic impressive tower in the earlier photos is one of Samsung's big office buildings. The headquarters, which is enormous, is actually in Suwon, looming in the distance of my neighbourhood. Cramped-armpit subway journey below, and three guesses what the franchise in the last picture is (pronunciation of the symbols is "suh-tah-buk-suh-kuh-pee").


















PS: Today is mine and Lizzy's six-month anniversary... champagne and cuddles all round.





Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hallowe'en

Kim and Lee had a giant Hallowe'en party, partly to introduce the kids to Western traditions, but mainly as a gigantic reward for good behaviour. And most probably a giant advertisement for the school. For the month of October we gave the kids orange stickers for good behaviour, and after a month they were traded in for "Kim and Lee Dollars" to buy things at the party. Admission to the Haunted House was five K&L dollars.


The Haunted House was the event Taylor and I constructed for this party. It was truly terrifying. It was very dark inside, they had to walk through a narrow corridor of black material, and we would pop out and scare the hell out of them. I made some little girls cry, and we had to turn the lights on and let them out. This all sounds very mean-spirited, but we were told beforehand that the kids wanted it scary, so we did as they told us to. My Hallowe'en costume was Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker from The Dark Knight.. see below:







The second photo is simply here to embellish the fact that I got a waistcoat for this costume. I was pretty stoked about it. And yes, I had purple pants. I also won $50 from the costume contest so it pretty much paid for itself. Other featured costumes of the night included Taylor's "Undead Ringmaster" outfit (which I believe wins the award for most horrifying concept), Erika's Charlie Chaplin (which was awesome, and very well executed considering she's Hispanic), and Randy (Korean side desk guy) in a pink cardigan with a shiny hat, and a bow tie made out of dollar bills that he had photoshopped to have his face in the middle instead. It's difficult to explain. It was funny, though.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Suwon vs Gwangju at the World Cup Stadium

Taylor and I went to the World Cup Stadium today in Suwon. Only a five minute drive from our homes, it was too good to miss out. The game was Suwon Blue Wings vs. Gwangju Sangmu (Phoenixes). We destroyed them 2-0. I was surprised that there were actually some minorities on the team, a guy from Croatia and a Brazilian guy. There were a tonne of foreigners there, and we actually got free tickets cause this American guy had two extra and just gave them to us. The fact that I didn't have to buy the ₩10,000 ticket prompted me to buy a ₩32,000 jersey but that's still pretty cheap. Photos below, and some gameplay footage:





video

Additional: We saw James (ex-Kim & Lee teacher from Australia) and his girlfriend Naomi (current Korean Kim & Lee teacher) at the game also, and ended up going to a cool dwaeji-galbi restaurant, followed by an arguably competitive doubles pool tournament at one of the numerous Pool Rooms in our area. Then we went home.. and here I am updating you on what's happening, at 3:17 am.

Tomorrow's agenda is Kim & Lee teachers intra-workplace soccer game (hopefully Koreans vs. Foreigners if we get enough people to show up). The most likely match will be Taylor vs. Colin as we seem to be the only confirmed guests to this event, though.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Min's Wedding & Legendary Karaoke Bus

So this weekend I went to a Korean wedding of a co-teacher (his Korean name is 캉민구, or Kang Min-gu, or simply Min, as we know him). It was held in a distant city called .. I think it was called Ondong but I'm not entirely sure. It was a four hour bus journey to get there. We (three other foreign teachers and I) noticed that the wedding itself was held in this giant "wedding factory" as Erika dubbed it, with numerous wedding halls and a giant furniture store downstairs. It was pretty impersonal. I'm racing through the description because the bus ride on the way back is really the most important part of this blog entry.


There were two buses heading out from Suwon, and midway through the journey, for some reason, most of the women and children left our bus and all the men from the other bus come onto ours. We didn't think much of this until a highly intoxicated Korean man approached us once the bus started moving, and urged us to sing for everyone on the karaoke machine. With much apprehension, confusion and broken English I ended up starting off the festivities with a performance of Wake Me Up Before You Go Go that resulted in tumultous cheering and the party REALLY getting started. The next two hours were devoted to drunken renditions of terrible, terrible Korean oldies tunes, that steadily got louder until all hell broke loose on the bus.


What happened next can only be described through video footage I managed to capture during this phenomenon. You'll notice that everyone on the bus is middle-aged, everyone is dancing and everyone is completely plastered. My friend Meredith is being propositioned by a Korean man that we believe had consumed well over three bottles of soju at this point. Also, keep in mind that the bus itself is speeding down the highway at 100 km/h as this is all going on.


I have to admit this is the first time I've been on a bus with disco lights.



video

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mokpo & Jeju

During the Kim & Lee post-intensive-classes week off, Taylor and I decided to go to Jeju Island for an indetermined length of time. After days of fruitless attempts at planning flights and visas to China or Japan, and due to the fact neither of us had much money, we decided on Jeju because it's easy and cheap and part of the Republic of Korea, so visas and a multiple entry stamp for my passport weren't needed.

We took the train down to Mokpo, a port city at the bottom of South Korea, and we made our way to the ferry terminal where we were unfortunate enough to have missed the ferry by two minutes. So we ended up staying a night in Mokpo, but it was pretty cool because there was a sizeable hill littered with pagodas and other tourist-friendly structures, and the view was awesome at the top (see above), so not too bad of a day. Mokpo itself seemed to consist of nothing but motels, fish markets and places to buy fishing equipment. The fish market smelled terrific. Additionally, there was also a very lewd poster for a questionable event that clearly involved homoerotic dancing and plenty of alcohol, and what made it even more sinister was the fact that it was presented entirely in Hangul, so really there was no telling what you were getting yourself into. It seemed completely out of place for a simple port city, but I suppose they have to get their kicks somehow after a hard day of gutting squid. Mokpo photos below:











We took a giant ferry the next day to Jeju Island, which took about five hours to get there. It was similar to a British Columbia ferry, except it had several mini karaoke rooms in it (aka Noraebang) that these old Korean codgers were just going nuts at inside. It was really entertaining to walk slowly past the rooms and see the elderly party of drunken old men singing terrible, terrible Korean pop songs. At Jeju we went to a lava cave (which contained the largest known lava column in the world, photo below) and it had a good cave vibe to it, lots of dripping water and shiny rock walls. The hordes of Korean tourists prevented the Journey to the Centre of the Earth feel from really setting in, but it was still neat. We went on a hike the next day and also found a small temple in Jeju city which was worth a little look around. The manji symbol is quite common in Korea as a Buddhist symbol, but they make special effort to use left-facing swastikas to differentiate them from the Gestapo. So don't be alarmed when you see the giant Nazi drum in the next few photos:











I was REALLY tempted to ring the enormous bell but I figured that would be pretty disrespectful. I bet it would have been really loud though.