Thursday, February 3, 2011
This list has no certain order. How could it? Every moment on this list was once in a lifetime.
I know it's cheating a bit to put a entire city on this list but for Istanbul I will make a exception. It is my favorite city on the planet, heavy with history, indie culture and amazing food. I only spent three full days in the city and I hope to return as soon as possible. Istanbul was the center of the western world for centuries and the mix of roman and ottoman culture has created one prefect world city. The cistern was a personal favorite and managed to stand out in a already brilliant city.
9-1:30 AM at Senso-ji Temple
Stephany and I took the last jam packed subway train back to our Hostel at 1:30 AM after a fast paced yakatori meal. We decided to swing by the Temple before heading back. The temple is usually packed with city dwellers and tourists alike. Yet when Stephany and I walked through the Temple grounds, we had everything to ourselves. The massive straw shoes, the lanterns and the five story pagoda was our playground. We ran around, snapped silly pictures and fulled our childhood dream of sisters traveling to far off Japan.
Ok, I lied. Just one more city on this list of what was meant to be experiences. In my defense Amsterdam was like more a experience than a city for me. I had a ten hour layover in the city after my week in Turkey. Like everyone else on the planet, I fell in love within a moment in Amsterdam. Everyone is young, beautiful and riding bicycles. The city is like my beloved Portland plus the history I find so intoxicating. In the measly eight hours I had in the city I managed to to take a boat tour, eat about 16 meals and fulfill my dream of seeing some dutch master paintings at the Rijksmuseam. If Amsterdam was this exasperating for eight hours just imagine after I move there to work in the Rijkarchive! In my wildest dreams perhaps....
I have done two different DMZ tours in Korea and they both were interesting and informative. Yet one moment stands apart. It was my third weekend in Korea and I took a tour to the northeast province. This was the same trip as the bungee jump of infamy. One night a group of us hiked up a local hill from our middle-of-nowhere home-stay. The hill used to be a genuine mountain before it got shelled into shambles during the war. After climbing to the top of the hill I turned a corner behind a monument and their it was, the DMZ. I saw before and I've seen it seen it since but never like this. It streaches as far as the eye can see in earthier direction. I had gone ahead of the group so I was alone amongst the boundary of steel fencing and spotlights. It was a shocking awaking that this country I was going to call my new home was at war.
6-Dancing at the Temple of Heaven
As self respecting guide book will tell you, the main attraction of the temple of heaven is not the multi-hued round temple itself but the park surrounding it. This is where the residents of Beijing come to exercise, sing karaoke, fly kites and prance will ribbons. Sometime after entering the park and before posing for more pictures (blondes do have more fun in China), I saw a group of older Chinese women line dancing for their Saturday morning workout. I knew if I didn't join it I would regret it later on. The women loved it and were more than patient for showing me the moves. I never thought I would go to China. I grew up thinking of China as the Far East, somewhere as unattainable as the Moon. Yet, here I was dancing the int Temple of Heaven. It made me giddy with happiness.
5-Street Parties and Festivals In Fukuoka
Last year I went for a wildly expensive weekend in Fukuoka Japan. I knew nothing about the southern most island other than I had two days off work and we could take a three hour ferry. We arrived on a Saturday night and I wanted to check out a district known for its night life and street food. I knew instantly that I was somewhere very different the moment I stepped off the subway. Advertisements for Host Bars lit up the sky in neon hues and everywhere the people where dressed in innovated interesting fashions. It was a wonderful change after Barbieland aka Daegu. Street food was everywhere and ranged from the classic meat on a stick to whole lobsters. The place entranced me and I joined the festivities, buying hot cups of sake from local vendors. Still moment alone would have deserved a spot on my list but I was even more lucky. We went during a small matsuri so dancers and musicians joined the festivities with the cross-dressers and street vendors. It was a perfect first trip out of Korea.
Sorry about the rush! I leave in a few hours for Thailand!
4- Riding my bike around Xian City Wall
In the Chinese city of Xian (the city of the terracotta soldiers) there was an amazing old city wall surrounding the city. My friends and I rented bikes and got to a wonderful next perspective of the city.
3-Getting caught in a rain storm in a bamboo forest in Japan.
2- The Great Wall!
1- Balloon ride over Kapidokia
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Want some delicious mushroom squid noodles delivered to your house? Do you only have 4,000 won? Well in Korea this is no problem as acres of delivery restaurants, service the needs of the hungry apartment bound masses. It took me a solid year of trial and error to figure out how to order from the monthly delivery books dropped off at my house. The food comes in less then thirty minutes and delivery is free. I will miss the moped man delivering everything from Pizza, Korean, McDonalds to Sushi.
9-Korean Hiking Culture
A middle aged man who won't give you anything but a massive wad of phlegm is transformed once you reach the top of any of Daegus local peaks. All of a sudden the older generation of Koreans becomes your best friend. There hasn't been a single time when I have hiked to the top of a mountain and not been greeted by a few free snacks or in one case, a round of drinks. The greatest kindness I have encountered was when my friends and I hiked Apsan Mountain the day after Christmas. It was freezing cold and my friend had forgotten her gloves. A older gentleman (who raced passed us as every Korean is in way better hiking shape than I) offered her a extra pair that he had brought in his bag. I just wish the kindness on the mountain could be continued on the subway.
8-Food Glorious Food
At first glance Korean food looks intimating and I personally was disappointed that it wasn't identical to Japanese. However, after a few months I was hooked. My favorite part of Korean cuisine is the side dishes. They are different at every restaurant and during every season. The staples include spinach, acorn jelly, long sliver fish, tiny fish, yellow pickled radish, onion salad, sweet potato and of course, kimchi. I can't believe I'm staying this but, I am going to miss kimchi. The salty acidic cabbage has become a staple of my diet and a meal hasn't begun without it. When I went home over Thanksgiving, I was disappointed by the fact that my meal was all served on one plate. I guess I just have to move to Spain next and day eat tapas all day!
7.5- Red Bean Bread Fish
Warm, sweet, yummy and three for a dollar. Need I say more? I just wish these waffley sweets were cooked up year round.
Super cheap and sold on every street corner, I will miss Korean fruit Adjummas. Street fruit is only sold in season so its always fresh and delicious. A big bag of kumquats for 3,000 won? I'm in heaven.
7-Cheap and Easy Transportation.
Its not interesting to write about but I never imagined it would be this easy to get around without a car.
Hot pants and high heels, floor length real fur coats, men's bedazzled jeans and of course couple wear. Daegu fashion is a strange combination of conservative and girly. You rarely see colors brighter than baby pink and many women's wardrobes could easily be shared with Barbie. While I never hopped completely on the bandwagon if have found myself wearing more leggings, (even Jeggings God help me) skirts and Velcro strap fake converse. It's exhausting to see so many beautiful people everywhere and at home I will be relieved to stop being the dumpyist 20-something downtown.
5-K-Pop and K-dramas
The flashy and strangely addictive Korean pop dance beats blast out of every available store orifice at all hours of the day and night. It's annoying but sinks quickly into your brain. Similar to kimchi, I found myself craving K-pop and kept a secret stash on my computer. K-dramas are a much larger time commitment and embarrassingly much more addictive. I watched two complete dramas series on mysoju.com and only my hapkido class and work kept me from watching more. Its hard to ignore the successful dramas, “Secret Garden” being the most recent. My students debated them in class, my friends knew the actors real love dramas and the cab drivers watched the series finale on their in-cab-tv's.
It might be exhausting and I am pretty sure I took years off my voice box but I will fondly miss teaching. It's a career that plays to my vanities. Everyone listen to me, look at me and laugh at me. I am here for their entertainment. Oh, and to teach I guess although the role of the foreigner teacher is half of each. The kids call my name as I walk through the hallway and I get a rush from actually helping them understand. I will be pursuing a masters in archival science but I hope to integrate it with public education in some way. I enjoy the performance aspect of education far too much to never continue.
From leaving my computer and wallet out in the open in a coffee shop to the keypad entry on my apartment I have never felt safer than I do in Korea. Nobody rips you off and bartering is unheard of. I walk home alone at 4:30 AM at a regular basis and I have never once felt threatened. I think one of the most difficult parts of returning home will be giving up freedom which only comes with feeling secure.
When you leave your friends and family to live in a foreign country you start from page one. The friends I have been blessed to make in this chapter of my life have become some of my closest friends. We work together, eat together and become each others new family. More than simply friends, I will miss my new family and hope to visit everyone again no matter what corner of the globe we call home.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Top Ten Awkward Cringe Inducing Moments (in no particular order)
10. Bungee jumping
Most people jump off a bridge for the excitement and energy rush. I have never wanted to go bungee jumping, to be honest it always looked too damn scary. Yet my third weekend in Korea I went on a DMZ tour of the northeast province. Bungee jumping wasn't part of the trip but it was only 30,000 won (28 bucks) and I decided to go because... it was cheap. Mistake. I was the last one in line and only jumped after being hooked up twice and eventually got pushed off in the dark. I actually enjoyed the fall and the adrenaline rush. The reason bungee jumping is on this list is my tear-stained face and ruined lungs and the firm reminder that you shouldn't attempt a extreme sport simply because its cheap.
Any trip where the highlight is feeding seagulls in sure to end in failure. From the beginning of this trip where I almost got seasick on ferry to the end where we thought we had to stay another night. It was a disaster. Rain, expensive terrible food and nothing to do. How did this lonely depressing little island have the undying love of an entire country? The answer is tied to Dokdo and Korean national pride neither of which applies to a group of foreigners naively dreaming of a beach vacation. I think the majority of this trip can be summed up in the tiny five per room hotels and the fleas which distracted me from the sound of incessant rain.
No one can ever see it but, trust me it's out there and it belongs to Korea.
8.The Korean Theme Park Death Ride
From the strange mashup of themes to the sketchiness of the roller coasters Korean theme parks are the guilty pleasure of Korea. I know I shouldn't enjoy the cheesy decor but I do. I have been to two local Daegu parks, the strangle baby animal roundup in Everland in Seoul and California themed waterpark where none of the pools are over a meter deep. The best ride at any Korean theme park is the tambourine. Its 80's inspired grandeur was at every theme park I explored. Its a massive wheel which spins around and shudders, throwing your entire body off the seat. There is no seat belt, just the desperation of your own sweaty palms. I know a friend whose spine was injured on this ride and another couple who vomited on it. I have managed to survive this ride multiple times and the first I was given no warning except hold on. Its a nasty ride and one that would never survive in America's sue happy system.
This place claimed to be a interesting Korean folk village. Perhaps it is not during the freezing cold month of December. A three hour bus ride lead me and my friends into the middle a empty folk village. It was cold miserable and the level of excitement accepted before something get labeled a "attraction" is much lower in Korea then I am used to. However Andong set a new high for level of boring in a major attraction. There was signs which labeled "Pine Forest", "Straw Roof" and a whole building devoted to Queen Elizabeth's visit. In Andong's defense we did go during off season and the Jimduck (Chicken, veggies and rice noodle mashup) was out of this world. Still I will never forgive Andong for the frostbite I suffered on my soul.
6. WWF at Camp Walker
See earlier post and bask in the excitement of our military based deodorant shopping spree.
5. Exploring the Infamous Sangin Nighuh
As I have often explained prostitution in its various degrees exists all over my neighborhood. On strange Wednesday night my friends and I decided to enter Sangin Night, the local nightclub with on demand prostitution in the backrooms. The night was bizarre with barely anyone else in the place and the strange floor show which was not staffed with Russians despite the questions I occasionally receive. Chatting with your everyday bouncer/ hustler was strange indeed and a interesting view into the world that is everywhere around us yet completely hidden.
It was the end of the Frisbee season and our fantastic Irish captain had decided to rent our bottom of the League team a limousine to arrive at the field basting "The Final Countdown" and breaking out into dance. When the Limo arrived it was in fact a airport van and the driver would not can't from blasting ABBA for enough time for our arrival to look even quasi bad-ass. Awkward? Of course but that moment when the van pulled up to see all of us dressed to the nines accompanied by Kenneth's Irish swearing was some of the best gut busting laughter of my life.
3. Park Sung Tae
He's more than your local Representative he is...the most interesting man in the world. Ok, maybe not. In far he was a far cry from that. Meeting him the hallway of my school was hysterical. Going to his formal election night party was anything but, awkward with no one who spoke english or under the age of 50, it was a far cry from my black tie, DonP fantasy which involved Hannah and I riding around in his campaigning trucks. We stayed there for two desperate hours before we fled the scene.
2. Being a Medically Induced Vegan
Heck I don't quite understand it myself but thanks to lame genetics (love you Dad!) I can no longer eat animal products. This is universality awkward but Korea as is a country of meat meat meat and flash dieting. Nobody really believes that I have health reasons for what I am doing. "What is that wonderful flash diet your on?" some Korean friends love to ask. Also no one in the restaurant business believes me. They just think I am a horrible picky foreigner who just doesn't like beef/eggs/milk. As you can imagine this has put a major damper on work dinners as I eat only rice and pretend not to mind public discussions about my weight.
Luckily the majority of my friends have been super understanding and bend over backwards to eat where I can eat. However their food still looks better than mine.
1. Everything my students inappropriately share
Sometimes my students can be pointed rude and often racist but most of the its naively cute. Like the time where my boy students talked about their "fire balls" through class. Other times its much stranger like the Korean obsession of cartoon pictures of poop. The most awkward teaching moment is when my 8 year old male student asked me if I had a boyfriend. When I negatively replied he told me I should date his brother who would "put a baby in me". To this day I don't know where he heard that.
Well that's all for this top ten. Whats next? Most awe striking travel moments? Things that should be carried over to the States? Couplewear? Anyone have any suggestions, I have plans to write at least two more before I start my travels.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Over the short three day midweek holiday of Chuseok, I traveled with a group of ten friends to the "mysterious" island known as Ullenugdo. Located 75 miles into the
We shipped out early Tuesday morning for a four hour hydrofoil journey. The boat was packed full of families traveling for the holiday. The floor space was jammed full of people who had set up camp and were laying on the floor. At first I mocked the Korean tendency to set up camp but then as I grew more and more seasick, laying on the floor seemed like a good idea. Eventuality I slid off my chair and onto the floor, enjoying the rest of the trip from the comfort of a good nap.
After a four hour boat ride we spied the so-called mysterious island, where we were hustled into a expensive restaurant and ate some unhygienic food. This turned out to be a theme throughout the trip. We were then rounded up onto another boat for a trip around the island by our inept tour company. Another theme of the trip. The second boat ride of the day revealed the craggy coastline of the island. It was quite beautiful, I think. To tell the truth I was distracted from the scenery by approximately fifty birds swooping over my head. The brochure for the boat trip mentioned two great activities, taking pictures and feeding native wildlife. Also known as seagulls. I wish I could read Korean so I would have been prepared for this bombardment of animals and excrement. I confess, the whole thing was slightly exciting in a Hitchcockian manner but it grew old fast.
EunGyung, Your not helping!
And that was the highlight of my trip.
Only half joking. We were lead to our tiny minbak (five people to a room and floor beds) with no food and no entertainment. We were on our own with only thousands of tiny fleas to keep us company.
Wednesday was a 24 hour downpour and a public holiday. We walked 40 minutes over the hill and back into port only to find everything was closed. We feasted like convenience store kings that day, playing monopoly and watching the rain. Not quite the tropical island experience I fantasized about. Luckily I had a bunch of great friends to pass the time with.
We woke up on Thursday to sunny skies. The island had been transformed into something worth our time. After emerging like my students from a PC room, we stepped out into the fresh air and decided to take a hike around the coastline.
It was undoubtedly my favorite Korean hike with jagged rocks complemented by some of the bluest water I have ever seen.
Of course we only had time for short hike and then we where dragged out to catch the ferry back to Daegu. In the end I spent a three days and a good deal of money for a three hour hike.
Very few foreigners make it out to Ulleungdo. I think the island could be a worthwhile destination if the weather agrees with you. Also a last word of warning, the weather is volatile and there are only two ferries to the island everyday. Don't be surprised if you are forced spend another night on the island. We almost had to miss a day of work. I was a shame we didn't end up spending one more day on the island, with the sunny weather it would have been nice. It was a unlucky trip all around.
Sorry about the months in between posting everyone! I have a recent glut of free time and I promise to write more.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Korean Couples Wear
Guest blogger: mom/Joanne
Ladies: Does your man really love you? How do you know? Well if you lived in Korea it would be obvious; you would dress alike. Yes, I'm talking couple wear and it's big business here. Koreans are very orderly people and follow the rules of dating. At about date #7 the couple goes shopping together and thereafter look like grown-up brother-sister twins. It's super-cute and super-popular. Sometimes just a matching shirt, oftentimes right down to the pants and dare I mention – the skivvies. Yes, check out the photos. His & her underwear. Something tells me I will never get my man to do this for me. Guess I'll have to settle for roses!
Monday, August 23, 2010
I am not an adventurer. That would be my daughter Katie. Although I have traveled in the past, I much prefer to stay within the confines of the good ol' USA where I can read the street signs and order up a plain coffee at Starbucks. Much to my surprise – I can do both of those things here. Signs are in Korean and English and coffee is huge here – even more so than Portland. I expected tea served with every meal and cute tea houses on every corner but I suppose that would be Japan. Guess I really do need to get out more. Cute would not describe Korea. I'm not even sure that “scenic” is a good word. Yes, there is beauty here but I haven't seen it. I am in Daegu, a bustling city that awakes in the evening hours when the weather cools and you can finally go out. The shopping centers both old-style markets with fresh fish, dried fish, chickens both alive and dead, textiles and socks, socks, socks and the newer malls with department stores, 3 storied coffee houses and best of all inexpensive plastic surgery centers where you can come out better-looking in an hour. What a country! The people, although not overly friendly, are very helpful when asked for help and love trying out their English on me. As I walk along the streets here in Daegu I am the only Westerner. Once in a while I see a similar face and it's usually another English teacher here for a year.
Katie has taken me to Seoul where we enjoyed a wonderful weekend that coincided with the 65th anniversary of Korean independence.. The highlight was an outdoor concert of Italian opera and a special version of their national anthem by a very old Korean rock guitarist (& obviously a legend judging from the applause he received). We enjoyed every minute.
Let's see, I'll try to speed this up a bit. The food is o.k. Not my favorite cuisine. Korean beef barbecue is good; kimchi, not so much. And it is served with every meal. Yes, even breakfast.
Bullet train, subway and taxis are great. Passenger train is s-l-o-w. Bicyclists passed us.
Here is an interesting note: Recycling. Recycling is placed in a bag outside the door to your home or apartment. Sometime during the night or morning it is picked up by an old woman who places it in her cart as she moves up and down the street. I imagine there are many elderly who do this as it cannot possibly be the same woman – right? It is always gone the next day so the system works. Maybe I can start that when I retire. Hmm.