Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cheorwon Weekend Trip

This weekend I went on a overnight trip to Cheorwon County. The trip was run by a travel company called "Adventure Korea" and nine of my friends went on it. The whole group was foreign ESL teachers and I got to meet some great new people. The tour bus picked us up in Daegu and then we drove for six hours northward to get to the Hantan river were our group went rafting. Years ago I went on a fantastic rafting trip on Idaho's Salmon River compared to that this was like the jungle cruise. It was nice float down the river with beautiful scenery. The best part of the trip was jumping out of the raft and swimming in the river. It was a perfect temperature on such a humid day. After rafting we were driven to this bridge. It was here that 26 brave souls were going to bungee jump off of this 50 meter bridge.

I heard about this trip seance my first night in Korea and my response was always. "There is no way I am going bungee jumping." It has always looked scarier than sky diving and I had no desire to throw myself off of a perfectly good bridge. Yet as we drove up to the bridge I got off with the jumpers thinking "just in case". I continued to this "just in case" until I found myself strapped to a rope looking 50 meters down into a river.

I have never been more scared. Ever. The first time I walked to the end of the platform I wimped out. As I watched others go my only thought was "I can't be the only one who wimped out". Then at 8:30 at night with the crescent moon shining and my shame as motivation, I closed my eyes and ran off a bridge.

I watched every person jump and one thing everyone shares. You might scream a little at the top but you don't start to really scream until you bounce back up. Until then you simply too scared. I spoke to one girl after the jump who said she blacked out. She couldn't remember anything until she bounced back up at the bottom. For me everything went silent. I have never been so scared in my entire life. After what seemed to be a lifetime I hit bottom and bounced back. I then flipped onto my back and fell again watching the night sky, by this time I'm screaming like a crazy person. My friend took a video of this by the way and I promise to upload it the moment I have a copy. When I used up all of my momentum I hung by the cord and waited for the man in the inflatable boat to come and pick me up. I had to stand up for him to remove the harness but I was shaking so hard the most I could manage was a squat. Would I do it again? Without a doubt (although it will surely cost more, this was just 30 bucks). Never have I felt adrenaline like that and maybe next time it will be more fun than fear.

After bungee jumping we drove to Odeami village. Odeami's farmland is famous for two things, legendary rice and on of the bloodiest battles of the Korean war. Our group ate dinner and then two of my friends and I took our stuff to were we would be staying, a traditional Korean home. The family who lived there must rent out that room to tour groups every weekend because they completely ignored us everyone squeezing into one room as we took the other. When then returned for a "campfire" which in Korea looks more like this.

At midnight we all went for a walk in the dark past the Baengmagoji Monument were the Battle of White Horse took place in 1952. The monuments themselves were hard to see because it was midnight but they weren't the really reason we hiked up there.

This picture might not look like much yet it was exciting being close enough to the worlds most secretive state to take it. The three white lights in the middle is the central tower in the middle of the DMZ. If those three lights go off for any reason locals know something big is happening in the DMZ.

The next day we toured a few of the more scenic areas of Cheorwon including a little river and a rather pathetic waterfall (living in the northwest spoils me, i'm sorry!). We where on our way to the DMZ. Between 1974 and 1990 four tunnels have been discovered connecting the two Koreas. Our trip was to the second tunnel which is one of the least visited. The second tunnel is six and a half feet tall and wide but is often much lower as it was common to hit your head. For once in my life I needed the hard hat my tour guide forced us to wear. The tunnel was about a 15 minute walk and drops us off in a larger cavern with a armed guard. A grate at the end of the tunnel says that I was now 200m from North Korea. Looks like they might have a tourist invasion on their hands. Watch out!

Although the South Korean soldiers manage to keep us on our toes with a well placed sign or two.

After the tunnel we continued our "security tour" by going to numerous other observation towers, bombed out remains of a train that connected North and South and strangely enough a museum consisting entirely of taxidermy birds. As we were shuttled to each site we had to drive through numerous security check points and military barracks. Every time drove past one I was shocked by the number of cute and cuddly painting. One even had two soldiers making their arms look like a heart?! I managed to take this picture on the back of a checkpoint, armed by three men with automatics. I had to take this or else no one would have believed me!

I had a great time during my trip. It took me out to the Korean country and I jumped of a bridge, two things I would have never done otherwise! Thank you Mom and Grandma for your letters. Its been fantastic to come into work and find a letter on my desk. I have lived in Korea for exactly one month now and time has flown by. It's because there is so much to do here in the summer. I'm sure winter will drag on...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bizzare Foods with Katie

I've been killing allot of time by watching Bizarre Foods on youtube. For those not familiar with the show, its a travel show were the host travels the world trying local cuisine. As I was watching I realized that I have been in South Korea for three weeks and I have still not written a blog about food. Well folks that is about to change.

Korea food is all served family style so grabbing a snack for one is extremely limited outside of the grocery store. One of the few options for solo dinning is Kimbap, the picture at the head of this post (Do you like the Beanie Baby? As the only non-Canadian at my school I inherited from the teachers before me.). "Kim" means seaweed and "bap" means rice. Kimbap is like a fishless sushi roll filled with pickled vegetables and a little egg and ham. Its a good snack to take to work for a 77 cents (1,000 won). Kimbap,the one sandwich sold in my area (thank goodness its fantastic) and a few flat dumpling carts are the only way to get out alone.

Next segment on bizarre foods with Katie is bar food. You've heard the saying that "New York is the city that new sleeps", well that may be right but the entire country of South Korea sleeps even less. Even in far out Sangin suburb of Deagu (population only 2.5 compared to Seoul's 11 million) people walk the streets until dawn everyday of the week. The drinking scene in Korea is huge and this makes up a large chunk of the night owls. A few nights ago a large group of teachers and Kaitlyn visiting family went out for makkolli (milky rice wine) and bamboo soju. The makkolli has a very pleasant neutral flavor and contains flakes of ice. Its served in traditional metal teapots who's likenesses adorn every makkolli bar. The bamboo soju is served by the shot is poured from a bamboo stem piece. Although soju is usually made from sweet potatoes, this soju is made from bamboo and tastes exactly like sweet apple cider.

If the makkolli is in the yellow bowl and the soju in the glass, then what is the brown stuff? That my readers is a traditional Korean snack pondegi aka silk worm larva. These little fellas are sold in large tubs in by some of the vegetable vendors and let me tell you their smell could knock over a lineman from 10 yards away. Once it makes it to the table however the smell is knocked down to strongly soy saucy. Other Korean bar foods include large cereal balls that taste just like Fruit Loops but it was pondegi that I had to write home about. The taste is bitter soy but the texture, the gusher-like pop was awful. I knew too well what I was eating. My curiosity was suppressed at one larva and I commenced to eat a entire bowl of Fruit Loops to dilute the flavor.

The last information I want to share about Korea food (for now..) is about side dishes. Yesterday I went out with Kaitlyn and her family for a traditional Korea meal, served sitting on the floor and in multiple courses. Anytime you buy food in Korea it comes with side dishes, usually a small plate of Kimchi and something else pickled. However, in this opulent traditional feast this side dishes stole the show. Six of us were sharing these things, fyi!

We started with a delectable pumpkin soup and a cold brine soup.

A salad and ice noodles (cold clear noodles served with vegetables).

Flounder shashimi (1st i've had all trip), soy noodles and spicy cooked tuna.

Batter fried mushrooms.

Sizzling spicy mussels.

Pork bacon and steak mushrooms with noodles.

Bulgogi served as stew with shredded beef.
This is the part of the meal were we asked our Korean friend if we were done. She laughed at us...

A cold spinach dish with many more pickled vegetables. See the pickles? Those are all incredibly sweet here.

Finally the main event, rice with beans and peas served in a hot pot. After you eat the rice you pour bowling water in with the burnt rice left in the bowl to make a soup. Koreans love burnt rice flavor, they even make candy out of it. I thought it was too bland hot, watery rice.

Dessert was coffee, asian pears and watermelon. Whew!

I hope everyone enjoyed this epic introduction to Korean food. I'm sure I'll have more to share very soon!


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Super Rad Weekend

So this was my third weekend in South Korea and probably the one where I had the most fun! On Friday night a large group of ten teacher all rented a movie and ate delicious green tea crust pizza. We rented Valkyrie which despite Tom Cruise wasn't half bad!

On Saturday I went to Korean Lessons and then went downtown with three other girls for a "double date" dinner and a movie. We went to a restaurant run by a Canadian ex-pat and I had a fantastic taco salsa in the only restaurant that sells Mexican food in Daegu. Then we all watched "The Brothers Bloom". We didn't have many choices when it came to English language movies but I really enjoyed it! It was quirky and romantic. After the movie I watched my friends ex-pat community theater one acts. I went on to have my butt kicked in a game of darts and danced to K-pop.

On Sunday there was a world music festival going on in the main park. The festival was a little underwhelming and competitively unorganized. What more than made up for it however was that we all rented bikes! Let my tell you nothing draws attention like six foreigner women cruising around on cute bikes. We managed to create a scene wherever we rode, not to mention we finally cooled off from the oppressive heat. After we got our moneys worth on the bikes (2,000 won or 2$ for two hours) we ate a snack before the main performance. I decided to try patbingsu a Korean ice dessert. I was told that I was trying a a basic concoction of the desert and despite the crazy sweet bean paste on top, I loved it. It was sweet and refreshing but not too filling like a ice cream. Finally it was time for the main performance of the international music festival which was strangely all traditional Korean. A parade of traditional drummers came down the path to the stage. They are hard to find in this picture but try to find the guys with the ribbons on their hats, they would nod up and down as they walked to created a hula hoop effect.

There was also fan dancing and traditional music. If your wondering what traditional Korean music sounds like feast your ears on these horn riffs! (I took a video but I can't manage to up load it. I'll try again later..)

I had a great weekend which makes me almost ready to go back to teaching tomorrow.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Korean Lessons

Today was my first Korean lesson. I go to the downtown YMCA for two hour lessons every Saturday. I know that its impossible to become fluent in a year but I want to learn survival Korean. Numbers, directions, what the hell am I eating, you know the usual.
Today we spent the entire time with alphabet. Korean letters are stacked consonants above vowels and then the pairs are combined to make words. Korean is also a very soft sounding language which is completely unlike every other language I have tired to learn. I want to make the words sound like German or Arabic and the instructor cringes at every letter I say.
This is going to take allot of work! Until then enjoy this alphabet rap!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


When I first arrived in South Korea I remained in bed until the decadent time of 5:30 am. Jet lagged I paced back and forth exploring my new place (the bathroom/shower, the fridge conveniently touching my dresser). When I heard a announcement projected from outside. It sounded like something prerecorded and I couldn't understand a word of it.

I panicked, sure that North Korea had attacked. I ran outside of my apartment and saw no signs of chaos on the street. Just as I was about to head inside I heard the words “Ba-nana ba-nana”. Around the corner came this small flatbed truck with stacks of fruits, veggies and a loudspeaker.

Fruits and vegetables are sold on street corners in South Korea. They are cheap and super fresh. There are two types of vendors; the little old women (Adjuma's) with one type to sell and the men in the trucks. The problem I've had with them so far is that when I bring the fruit into my house the plague of fruit flies always come with and the berries can't take sitting outside all day. I just bought a bowl of red mountain berries and over half were moldy. The produce is sold super fresh. I was told that I just missed strawberry season and that if I like something I better buy it now because who knows when it will disappear!

Monday, June 15, 2009


After two weeks of waking up past noon and then watching Americas Next Top Model, Britain Next Top Model and week old reruns of the Tyra show (there's not allot of selection in English, please forgive me!) I decided to do something. So in a effort to fight off laziness I joined Hapkido classes! The class fits into my schedule perfectly. Its at 11, Monday thru Thursday for a little over a hour. There are four other teachers in the class and a Fijian cop who is learning it for a year to take it back to the force. The teacher speaks enough English to teach and best of all has a great sense of humor. I went to class on Thursday but today was my first real day. I got my uniform and let me tell you that thing is a sauna! I start to sweat when I first put it on and by the end of class I am a sweaty wreck. The uniform looks pretty badass but it is super stiff for the first few weeks. Its like I'm working out in Canvas. This is going to get me in shape and it is completely possible to make it to black belt level one within the year.

This picture is of the gym and those black belts are just showing off after class. The Fifth level black belts in my class are super impressive yet help me out with form and give plenty of encouragement. Oh and do you like the anime fighters in the windows? That totally pretty much sums up Korea, nothing is too serious for a cartoon.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Seomun Market

Hello again everyone! I wanted to tell you about my Tuesday trip to the Seomun Market. To quote my hilarious Daegu tourism book "Seomun Market is the largest in the country (outside of Seoul)." What?! That's like saying L.A. has the best shopping in the country! outside of New York.

Seomun Market was fantastic. All the chaotic selection of a Tunisian Souk with no bartering or cat calling! It has everything. Umbrellas, seafood, Korean nicknacks and fantastic noodle lunches served boiling hot for under three dollars. The market is open air for the food and in a catacomb like building for everything else. My favorite part of the market would have to be.. the parking lot attendant.

She had her crazy outfit and and microphone and was greeting every car that drove in and out. Strangely enough this is pretty standard for Korea.

As my friends and I were walking out of the market to catch the subway one of the crates in a seafood stand started moving... I ransacked my purse for my camera and by the time I gabbed it, I was no longer alone.

The octopus has left the building. My friends and I started to scream "Octopus Escape!". I personally couldn't stop shifting my weight. I was literally jumping from foot to foot. The wriggling creature on the ground was completely out of its element.

As the octopus was slowly making a break for it. The women in charge of the stand chased him down and then hammed it up for the foreigners by chasing us with live octopus. Buy Korea for freshness!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

One Week Down

Hello Everyone!
I survived my first week. I also survived my first two days teaching. MoonKkang teaching the same three basic lesson plans (with different stories)so I can see how the teachers might go a little crazy. Lucky I have the same kids every week so getting to know them week after week will spice up the lesson plans.

This is a picture of my school, I work on the second floor. In Korea everything is so dense. A street looks completely different on a different sides because you can see all the signs stacked on top of each other. For example the basement of my building has a singing room and the top floor a Soju bar. (Soju is a cheap potato liquor that is sold on every street corner).

Here is the address for my school if anyone would like to write to me. Hint hint!
Katie Kalk
Moonkkang School
1556-2 Floor 2
Daegu, South Korea
I'll blog again soon, thank you for all your comments!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Pohang Trip

Hello everyone! This is my first weekend in Korea. I was asked by my friend Kaitlyn and her finance Ace to go on a bizarrely timed beach trip to Pohang. We went with her Korean friend Rosemary and we left last night at 10:30. After were arrived in Pohang it was a last minute search for a hotel. Korea has hotels called "love hotels" which are cleaner then hostels and cheaper than regular. Love hotels are exactly what they sound like a place for the youth of Korea to escape their conservative relatives and have a rendezvous. Unlike American hotels they are super clean. Not that made it any less awkward for Rosemary and I to share a bed with a spotlight over it (I accidentally erased that picture on my camera so i'll leave it up to your imagination) ...also...what the heck was this cup doing in the bathroom?

To be honest I have no idea why we had to spend the night for a short day trip in the first place. However I would have said yes to any idea just so I didn't have to spend my first weekend alone.

We woke up in Pohang which is steel producing capital of Asia (The Excitement!). The beach was cold, industrial and windy. As you may imagine my swimsuit stayed in my bag. Then we had a traditional Korean breakfast which is shrimp stew...Yeah...

These are the fish tanks outside of were we ate breakfast.

After breakfast we walked on the beach and we were accosted by a group of high school girls that wanted pictures with us (and by us I mean Ace). After our short walk we headed up to Bogyeog-sa. Bogyeog-sa is a Buddhist temple built in 1023 and surrounded by waterfalls.

Buddhist temples are made up of multiple buildings and shrines. My favorite in Bogyeog-sa was the one dedicated to success for recent graduates. Maybe I should have place my photo among the Bodhisattvas.

After the temple we took a short hike to the first out of eleven waterfalls in the general area. I wanted to hike out to more but I learned quickly not to mess with a Korean woman with a travel plan! The Korean forests are beautiful lush and surprisingly dry. The local legend surrounding Bogyeog-sa is that Monks traveled from China bringing with them two mirrors. The two mirrors traveled their separate ways, one arriving in Pohang where it was thrown into the lake creating a place were Buddhism was destined to flourish.

Or maybe just a rad place to cliff jump!

After this we turned around and drove back to Daegu. We were back by five making this one of the strangest and most un-necessary overnight trips I have ever taken.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Goodbye Teacher Chad/ Hello Teacher Katie Party

Yesterday was my last day of training and one of my future classes threw a party. They taped balloons all over the room and made a cake by stacking moonpies and topping it of with a loaf of french bread with candles (Koreans sell real cakes by the way).
The kids are super cute but little devils. They act up for the American teachers because they know that we wont hit them.
My first day of work is Monday and although every lesson is planned out for me I am still nervous. I need to start off strict so the kids don't walk all over me. However Korean students are pretty well behaved even when they are acting up. I have the ability to give jeshi or retest were the kids have to stay for an extra 100 minutes after their classes. I plan on only giving it out as a last resort because some kids have to stay as late as 11:30.
Staying that late at school is completely normal for the kids. My first night I was dropped off at my apartment at two am and I saw little kids walking home with backpacks on. The idea of childhood is completely different in South Korea. I don't think I would have done well in this environment.
I miss everyone so much. Thank you for all your comments!
Oh and I took the national health exam today. Nothing too crazy happened except the chest ex-ray and the nurse whipping out her needle and taking my blood in the hallway.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My Apartment!

I was imagining a unnaturally small place like in Japan or a UO dorm room. This way I was pleasantly surprised when I first walked into my new place. I have two dressers, a fridge, microwave, toaster over, washing machine and brand new TV (Korean television deserves a post of its own).

That's my tiny gas powered stove top.

I only have three complaints about my apartment.
One- The mattress is as stiff as a piece of plywood (because it is one?). I will test this hypothesis when I wash the sheets.
Two- I was really excited for a highrise view of a flashy city. It turns out that I live on the second floor, Daegu is not flashy and this is my view...White picket fence the American dream?

My final complaint is universal to all Korean homes. It's not a big issue just something I must adjust to.
My bath room.

Its also my shower.
The hose is on the wall with no curtain and no basin. The entire bathroom is covered with title and there is a drain in the center. The problem is I have to remove all of my toiletry's and makeup or everything will get soaked. I like the placement of the towel rack right next to the hose.. that was a nice touch.

Well that's my apartment. I really enjoy having a small place of my own in a building with three other teachers. It makes me feel less isolated.

Thank you everyone for reading! Tomorrow is my last day of training and I start work on Monday. Yikes!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Swine Flu

Swine Flu

It seems that in North America H1S1 flu was just a flash in the pan, a potential epidemic that fell short of its scare tactic. While Asia still has no reported deaths that doesn't stop them from treating H1S1 like a major threat. When my plane landed in Japan all of the passengers had to remain seated while state workers in respirator suits walked down the plane with large machinery. This was repeated in Korea and then I had to wait in a long line to been screened for quarantine. By the time I reached the end of the line I had been traveling for 14 hours and was without sleep for much longer than that. The inspector read over my health form and then my temperature was taken with a neck sensor.

“Relax” He commanded me as broke out into a nervous sweat. “Looks like you have a fever. What state are you from?”. I told him Oregon and then he looked over a chart which told him that Oregon did have confirmed Swine Flu cases. “We may have to put you in quarantine”, this only helped to raise my body temperature “unless you can promise me to try to stay indoors the next ten days.” At this point I would have promised him my first born child to get out of his scary SARs mask o' vision.

After I was picked up at the airport with another new teacher from Ohio, we were driven to Deagu a two hour drive from Busan. Once there we meet with our future supervisor. The first thing he did was hand us a printed out spreadsheet of flu cases and deaths. He then gave us a few numbers of staff members who would drive us to the hospital anytime of day or night. This great news if my allergy symptoms didn't line up so perfectly with swine flu. Whatever I do I thought, I mustn't sneeze!

All this before I have even went to bed! Today is my first day of training so wish me luck, I'm glad the wireless has held out this long so I can share this with everyone. Check back later for a picture tour of my apartment.

Hello Everyone!

I'm just writing to tell everyone that I arrived safely. I have just woken up on my first day in Korea although with the flight and the dateline its two days after I left. I have already met three other teachers in the program and everyone seems energetic and outgoing! In other good news my apartment exceeds my expectations. I have a queen size bed and enough floor space to fit my whole family (hint hint).
This is just a quick post to say I made it safely. Internet is patchy for me right now but my own connection will be set up after I take the standard government health exam....more on that later.

P.S.- I knew that I was teaching for a good school when I woke up this morning and uncovered milk, OJ, frosted flakes, toast and jam in my fridge!