Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!!

We made it to Seoul for 20s group and church. At fellowship we recruited a number of people to help us ring in the New Year. The plan was to meet in Hongdae around 11pm and go dancing.
We went to a French restaurant for dinner to celebrate and had dinner crepes and dessert crepes. They were very good. We made it to Tin Pan and met co-workers and members of the 20s group. It was a lot of fun and we rang in the New Year with style.

Happy 2007 to everyone. May it be prosperous and rich in blessings!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Internet TV

Anyone who has a high speed connection will appreciate this. It is a video of our Christmas Eve service at IWE. Click on the 20s group link to fast forward to our fun grand finale to service.

P.S. Plus anyone missing the sight of me (I'm suppressing a laugh) will get to see me in rare form.

Friday, December 29, 2006

We Conquered the Fortress!

Because the Busan Aquarium was right across from our hotel, we had to check it out. Even the fish were dressed up for the holidays. See the eel coming out of the house to greet Santa? Or how about the fish swimming with Frosty? Unusual, yes. Strange even. But, what do you expect, this is Korea.

We took a cab back up the mountain in search of the fortress. He dropped us off at the goat meat village. Too bad we had already had lunch. We walked around this very tiny town and counted more than 50 goat restaurants. There was nothing else there but goat restaurants!

And then even better than that was the fact that there weren't even any goats around. The nearest livestock were these cows.

Just outside the gates of the goat meat village, we finally stumbled upon part of the fortress. Apparently, all that is left is 17 miles of this stone wall. Most of it was in a greater stage of disrepair than this section.

We walked on top of the wall to the peak of the mountain and had a panoramic view of the city and surrounding area.

Our final stop was to the Bokcheon-dong Mound Tombs and Museum. Admission to the museum was only 500 Won (50 cents). It had a lot of artifacts that had been excavated and a tour of the grounds showed more than 100 burial plots. Some of the weaponry and jewelry that was recovered from the graves was amazing.

Finally, we boarded the KTX heading back to Seoul.

The Fortress Beat Us

A co-worker, her brother and I hopped a KTX train and headed for Busan for two days holiday. Our tickets were $96 round trip which is pretty good considering the train ride spanned the whole of the country. (For the geographically challenged out there...Seoul is in the northwest corner and Busan is in the southeast corner of the country.) The nice thing was that the train ride was really comfortable and only took three hours.

When we got to Busan we checked into our hotel which was right on the beach. To bad the water was approximately 3 degrees C!

For our first stop, we wanted to go to the Geumjeong Fortress which was on the top of the mountain. With the Moon Handbook as our guide, we set off up the mountain. The guide indicated a tram that would take us up the hill and then a path that would lead us the rest of the way to the fortress. The guide book neglected to print the tiny detail that the tram only ran during the summer months and on weekends. We were really excited about the fortress because it was supposed to have a village of goat meat restaurants and that was what we had planned on for dinner. We made our way back down the hill heads hung in shame from having been beaten by the fortress.

Not wanting to chance the bus system, we took a cab to the Beomeo-sa temple. It is also named "Fish of the Buddhist Scripture Temple" or The Temple Where Fish from Nirvana Play." This was a beautiful area with a number of ornately painted buildings.

After the temple visit we walked through a forest of wisteria. Too bad it is winter and they weren't blooming.

After the temple, we found an interesting little hole-in-the-wall restaurant. I am not sure but we were probably the first American patrons to set foot in that particular restaurant. It was decent food but a lot of fun. Some girls in very short skirts (and by very, I mean very, very, very) came in and gave us a free bottle of soju as part of a special promotion. Unfortunately with soju, one bottle always leads to another.

With our stomachs full and now in good spirits, we hiked up yet another hill to the Pusan tower. We had a great night time view of the city and met some very nice Japanese girls. We exchanged addresses and promised emails and postcards.

We made it home and from our hotel window, I marveled at the first drive through restaurant I've seen since being in Korea. The McDrive was truly a beacon on the horizon of the continuing westernization of this country.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Raw Fish and Disappointment

My first experience with sushi! Judges ruling: Good, flavorful, not to die for, a little over priced. So what is all the hype about eating raw fish?

It was a lot of fun to sit there and watch the little conveyor belt of sushi dishes come gliding by. Some of the dishes looked pretty interesting.

We came home and watched Eragon. Why didn't Peter Jackson direct this?!? It is such a good book, but Director Stefen Fangmeier made the unfortunate decision to truncate an epic book/movie into 1 hour and 40 minutes. LOTR proved that audiences were up to the rigors of and could withstand a 2.5 hour movie and that true fans of literary fantasy would even dedicate 3.5 hours to the extended versions of the movies.

Eragon the movie did not live up to the book. So few movies do. I was slightly disappointed in the resulting movie.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

In the News

Maybe Jesus and Miss America are on to something. It only made headlines for a day but world leaders did call for peace on Christmas.

Is your food really safe? There are street venders on every corner of every city in Korea and we are worried about trace amounts of dioxin in U.S. beef? Solution action steps: 1. Don't create an FDA. 2. Ban all U.S. beef. 3. Continue selling street corner chicken on a stick.

Avian flu. We've been talking about this one for years. It is time for it to disappear or become the dreaded pandemic. (I'm hoping for the first of the two options.)

Virgin Mary

Tuesday night we had a staff party at a Golbi restaurant. We all had a little bit to drink which prompted another Nore bonging episode.

I bet a co-worker 10,000 Won she wouldn't roll around on the floor and sing "Like a Virgin."

It was the most un-Madonna like thing I've ever seen but worth every cent of the bet. I laughed until I cried!

First Christmas Away From Home

It was just a brief respite from work but a much needed one. Tuesday and Wednesday we only had afternoon classes so it was much more relaxed.

Tuesday morning my boss took me to the immigration office in Incheon. I have to apply for my Alien Registration Card. This will be nice to get because then I won't have to carry my passport everywhere I go. They did confiscate my passport to complete the application. It is a little unnerving to be in a foreign country and not have your passport on your person.

The immigration office was really busy and so we had a long wait. I passed the time by playing "Guess What Country They're From" with myself. I lost. Whether from Malaysia, China, or Korea, Asian people do look a lot alike.

Monday, December 25, 2006

And To All A Good Night

Christmas morning marked itself with present unwrapping. I got loads of good stuff including black tea(!!!), jerky, Montana made items, coffee, and gift cards.

Two weeks ago I started some sour dough batter and it was ready for it's first test run. Perfect timing. Sourdough pancakes for breakfast. Is there anything better?

We hosted dinner at the apartment this evening so I spent the better part of the day preparing for the meal. The menu: Eggnog, cheese and fruit appetizers, pork tenderloin with gingerbread sauce, cranberries, Snickers salad, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato medallions, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, and bread pudding and pecan pie for desert. We were thoroughly stuffed. Just mobile enough the make it to the couch and watch A Christmas Story, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Love Actually. It was a good night.

Merry Christmas to All

I went to the Christmas Eve service at Youngnak Church in Seoul. Our 20s group had prepared some carols for part of the service. The youth group, Sunday school and choir also performed but we were by far the most fun. We sang Silent Night, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Jingle Bells, Jesus Christ is Coming Today (Santa Claus is Coming to Town) and a rousing version of Feliz Navidad.
The Christmas Eve party was hosted in Seoul and we had a huge group attend. The highlight of the night was the photo scavenger hunt. We broke up into teams and had to complete a variety of tasks in the Insadong area and then take a photo of the results. I felt like I was auditioning for the Amazing Race.
The first task was to find the umbrellas in the Insadong marketplace and take a creative picture. The clue read 'think Warhol'. We immediately set off for the Andy Warhol exhibit where there were litterally hundreds of umbrellas hanging from the museum.
In the second task we had to get a picture with the ticket agent at the subway station. Bonus points if he let us come inside the booth. No bonus points...he was kind of grumpy. You'd be grumpy too if you had to work Christmas Eve!
In the third challenge we posed as Christmas lawn ornaments in the hotel front lawn. Do we look like Santa and his reindeer?
Our next challenge was to get a picture with as many Koreans as possible. Seven was our lucky number.
After posing as a nativity set in front of the palace gates, we talked the cashier at the GS25 store into a picture with our favorite candy...Mentos.
With speed and points, we won the challenge. High fives all around!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In

Pirate ships that is...

Friday night we went to I Porky's for dinner. (Yes, that is actually the name of the restaurant.) All of the adult English students and the teaching staff. Dinner lead to drinks and drinks lead to nore bong. All of the songs were a little too high for me but I sang my lungs out and completely lost my voice.

One of my co-workers brothers is in town visiting so we took him to the Insa-dong market to go shopping for souvenirs. It was a nice day for a walk and Insa-dong was hopping. Every 100 meters through the market there was somebody standing with a sign offering free hugs. It read in Korean and English "Free Hugs - put a smile on your face." Things like that are why I love the Christmas season.

After Insa-dong we took a cab to the Yongsan Electronics Market. Anything you want from DVD players to TVs to DVDs is available here. Average price of a DVD is 3-4,000 Won so be prepared to haggle. Also, don't be in too big of a hurry. Once you make your DVD selections, the proprietor of the tent stand will have to go into the back and burn your DVDs. Yes, this is totally breaking international copyright laws. But as I mentioned before, Koreans are willing to break some laws but others are sacred. What?! Pirating DVDs is illegal?! I had no idea!

The night ended with 007. The new James Bond film Casino Royale finally made it to Korea. The opening chase sequence was amazing. My palms were sweating it was so intense. The movie stayed true to Bond traditions and the highly controversial 'blond Bond' did a good job.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Guess Who Came To Town!!

Oh, you'd better watch out,
you'd better not cry,
you'd better not pout,
I'm telling you why....
Can you guess who the man in the Santa costume is?

It was a very impromptu impersonation. We knew we were supposed to have a Christmas party with the kids. We knew that Santa would be coming to deliver presents. However, ten minutes before Santa was supposed to arrive, my supervisor calls me out into the hall to talk. Five minutes later I was a cotton stuffed, belly jiggling, ho ho hoing, red suit wearing, rendition of a beloved childhood idol.
Some of the students were on to the gig. My students asked why I had the same shirt as Santa (when my suit popped open because of the cotton). They also thought I had the same voice as Santa. I played it off cooly leaving at least a shadow of a doubt in their minds.
"Santa gave me this shirt last Christmas and he must have liked it so much he had the elves make one for him too."
The best part of the whole experience was that the head boss of the office, didn't recognize me. He came up to me and introduced himself. It thought he was joking or just playing along. So I said,
"Hi, Chris. My name is Santa Clause. Have you been a good little boy this year?"
If the disguise will fool a man of 29, it should be good enough to fool a kindergartner. Those darn kindergartners are smart though. After I had left, they whispered to their teachers....
"I don't think he's the real Santa. He has brown hair under his hat."
I handed out the presents, wished them a Merry Christmas and then headed for the roof to catch my sleigh and reindeer.

Attempts at Slacking

Thursday was the last day before Christmas that I was going to see my afternoon kindergarten class. I decided I would be a 'fun' teacher and we would do an arts and crafts project after learning some 'L' word vocabulary. We were going to make some Christmas character finger puppets.

I can't even be a slacker teacher when I try.

My plans of fun were trumped by two of the student's parents who decided it was necessary to have a birthday party for them that day. So, let them have cake (and eat it too).
We all enjoyed a class period of partying.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Winter Solstice

December 21 marks the winter solstice. Shortest day of the year. First day of winter. Keystone of astronomy and ancient religion.

In Korea, the beginning of winter ushers in the white tiger.
I don't know the history or symbology of this and I can't seem to find anything online (Wikpedia and Google failed me). But it was a pretty good sales pitch from a shop owner who got me to buy to bookmarks, posters and cards with 'seasonal' symbols on them. I was dooped!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Beautiful Thing

When we had previously been talking about pay checks, my co-workers had called their checks 'beautiful'. I was confused. How could a pay check be beautiful?

Now I understand. For the past week, I've been running on fumes. I didn't want to change anymore of my travelers checks and I was completely out of Won. Today...Payday! 2,014,800 Won! And the exchange rate is excellent right now and getting better each day. 931 Won per US dollar.
We are supposed to have eight teachers on staff and we are currently running on only seven. We are getting a lot of overtime hours. January will mark the beginning of winter school which will be even more overtime. I expect my paychecks to get prettier and prettier.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ladder Luck

I am constantly amazed by some of the most seemingly mundane things. If you think walking under a ladder is bad luck, then you definitely wouldn't want to walk under one of these.

These trucks are employed to move people in and out of their apartments that might be located on any one of the 20 floors of an apartment building. The very small truck runs out a ladder and then a platform is moved up and down carrying items up to the apartment balcony.

From a distance these are kind of interesting, but up close they are down right scary. There is so little supporting either the truck, the platform or the extension that the whole thing looks like it might topple over. I take a wide berth as I walk around...Just to be on the safe side.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Not That I'm Worried...

I have a huge amount of faith in the peace talk process. That said, does it bode well that N. Korea has 'defiantly declared' itself a nuclear power on day one of the full international arms talks?

North Korea or the 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea', wants the U.N. sanctions lifted before it considers disarmorment. The United States, South Korea, Russia, China and Japan have been meeting in Bejing this week in hopes of a resolution to nuclear tests in N. Korea on Oct. 9. N. Korea is demanding the lift of financial restrictions and the allowance of a nuclear reactor that would alliviate energy demands in the country.

All of this would put the communist country on 'equal footing' with other nuclear powers. The talks were suspended 13 months ago when no progress had been made. The tests in October put a fresh and disturbing spin on the already tense situation.

Until South Koreans become worried about the situation, I have every confidence in proceeding with life day by day with only the cares of the job weighing me down. But, let's all pray for a peaceful resolution. Pray for all those involved in the talks.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Ain't Going Down Til the Sun Comes Up

Motivated by the stressful week, we decided to brave the weather and venture to Hongdae for some dancing. The subway was packed because of the snow and amazingly a lot of people were out and about.

We ended up at the Tin Pan which was packed with Americans and other internationals. It offered loud, good clubbing music. Bars in Korea don't close and so we ended up staying out until 4:30am!

Because of the weather, none of the cabbies wanted to take us all the way back to Gimpo. We were finally able to bribe one in to taking us home to the tune of 50,000 Won. Ouch!! Why, oh, why don't the subways run all night!!!

First Snow

Gimpo is apparently having an unusually wet winter so far. We were blessed with a beautiful snow fall last night. It was so much fun to take a walk in it today.

It is a nice wet, slushy snow that is just perfect for building a snowman.

We came upon a street where Korean children and adults were taking advantage of this rarity and enjoying some sledding.