Sunday, December 19, 2010

Top Ten At Ten

Hello all my lovely readers/Mom. I have been pretty lazy on my blogging lately and my time in Korea quickly runs to a close. I want to get a KaTU style Ten At Ten segments about my favorite, worst and most surreal moment in the last two years. So lets get started!

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.

7. Andong

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.

4. Limousine?
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 Sea of Japan East Sea, the island is famous for cliff side landscapes and dried squid. Due to recent drastic dietary changes I would only be able to enjoy one of the above. However that wouldn't stop me from enjoying this island that had been hyped up from every Korean who knew I was going. According to my students Ulleungdo is a combination of Mecca and Disneyland. A nationalist paradise/ultimate vacation location.

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

Couple Wear

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

Impressions of Korea

By: Joanne/mom

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.

Monday, June 21, 2010


About a month ago Daegu had its local elections. I had known this day was coming for months. Why? Because of the giant campaign banner that had hung on my building for the last six months. When it first went up I asked my youngest students what it was for. They told me it was for a man who had "no hair, now hair". I completely bought it. It wasn't until months later that I realized it was for city councilman. As election day drew nearer it became impossible to ignore. Trucks drove up and down all of the major and minor streets with blasting music and slogans complete with middle aged women dancing on the backs.

I have traveled to nine different countries and this ranks up there with strangest things I have ever seen. A small local election was being advertised around the clock. For two weeks I woke up to a woman shouting praises of some local joe. Childrens songs with words substituted for the candidates name, people riding on the backs of trucks dancing or bowing, it was strange. The candidates themselves would be walking around town with slashes with their face on it and the position they were running for.

It gets stranger. One day I was walking out of woke and I see the candidate on my building (no hair, hair). My friend and I attempt to talk with him and end up getting invited up to his base of operations. We can't say no. We are greeted by a small group of supporters who force feed us and dress us up in sashes for photo-ops. He invites us to his victory party the next night and once again, I can't say no. The man had put the picture up of us on his website (tagline- Park Sung Tae, The foreigners choice.)

The next night we returned. I must confess I had fantasies of a massive ritzy party or at least something hilarious happening. If you count awkward as hilarious then maybe it did happen. We were paraded around the room and it was clear Mr. Park liked to show off his foreign supporters. One man attempted to get us tipsy and a woman called her high school aged son over from across town to watch him speak english with me. We stayed two hours too long and escaped before we knew the official results.

The next day the election was over (Mr. Park won) and the trucks were still out this time with the candidates bowing to the passersby to show their gratitude. I tried for weeks to get a video of the dancing women in matching shirts, visors and gloves but I never quite got it.

But this guy did!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Katie Update

Last weekend I went up to Seoul for Buddhas Birthday and Lantern Parade. I hadn't been up to Seoul in a few months and during this trip I went to the university district for the first time. Seoul is vibrant unique city that is easy to forget about in the massive suburb that is Daegu. Countless cute Coffee shop after wine bar after boutique show the common trends.

The lantern festival parade was on Sunday night (another great reason to start work at four). It was pure spectacle. It wasn't as beautiful as the Rose Parade(s) but I have never seen anything quite like it. First of all more people where in the parade than were watching it. Rows and rows of beautiful traditional Hanboks worn by people carrying hand painted lanterns. Large Buddhist congregations will chose representatives to march in the parade including my bosses mother. Along with the traditional music, art and dances where some modern floats. I loved the lanterns of the fire breathing dragons and graceful peacocks but my favorite was one of Buddha flying a helicopter. I hope to see more parades feature divinities with heavy ammunitions soon (Jesus in a Jet? Vishnu in a Tank?). I jest but it was quite bizarre to see monks pushing floats with kids dressed up as Buddha. Fake ears and all.

The parade finished in three lengthy hours. I ran off to get a Starbucks in the middle of it, I have become my mother. After the parade, we scoured the streets for discarded lanterns and found the jackpot in Jogye-sa temple. I took them home via two subways, the bullet train and taxis. They now hang in my window and will hopefully give me luck for my second year in Korea.

In other major news I have finished my Ninja training and received my Black Belt in Hapkido. Tim, Brent and I have trained together for the past year and it was finally time to take the test. We had a crowd of seven watch us and our judge was, no joke, the dean of the bodyguard department at a local university. I was incredibly nervous, sweating bullets before I even began the test. I regretted asking all my friend to come and cheer me on. After all, it is not unusual to fail a black belt test. Even a old foreigner like myself had to hold up some standards.
The test started out with nine different kicking techniques. This part is not only the most exhausting part of the test but also the most difficult. I can't master the forms and although I can kick to eye level my master wants my kicks to be over my head.
The second part of the test is the twenty-one different self defense moves. Hapkido defense focuses on wrist locks. My self defense partner is six foot tall Tim. Not only do I have to restrain him and throw him over my back but he has to do the same to me. Being the “attacker” often involves having your face wiped through pools of sweat. My black belt test was no exception.
The next part of the test was two minute sparing rounds, falls, rolls and kicking apart a three cm board. Nunchucks were cancelled which was bad news for my bruise collection.

I am now the proud owner of my black belt with my name embroidered on it,
키ㄹ크 캐이티
Best souvenir ever!

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Stephany was in the worlds largest metropolis for three days. I have a extra day and a half because I flew out later. Tokyo is a city of distinct districts so I have decided to write about these districts in groups instead of a day by day style.

This is the district where we spent the nights. It is built around the Sumida rive, which was the only body of water I saw during our stay. It's very easy to forget that Tokyo is a port city. Asakusa is famous for its Shinto/Buddhist shrine Senso-ji. Stephany and I wandered into Senso-ji during some late night exploring. We had the shrine completely to ourselves and we were able to take some great pictures that would have been impossible in the daytime tourist crowd (they are all on Stephany's camera).

This is a street located within Asakusa district. Stephany and I followed the guide book there thinking its was a large store that sold fake food (buying one being side quest of mine) instead we were pleased to discover an entire street selling everything imaginable. Giant mascots to place in front of your restaurant, signs, banners, teapots, accessories for a American themed diner and of course fake food. These miniature works of art aren't cheap and we oohed and aahed over gems like "Donut on the Gold Chain" and "Floating Fork with Spaghetti." After lengthy consideration I walked away with a prefectly replicated bite of steak on a key chain. Money well spent.

Home to the worlds busiest pedestrian intersection, Shibuya is a shoppers dream. Or in my case nightmare, as I was too cheap to by anything. We took in the sights and sounds of Tokyo's high and low brow shopping. There was one store that ranked all the products sold in Japan (in very small categories like face mask or stationary set) and then sold the top three in its store. The entire store changes every week so the Japanese school girl doesn't embarrass herself by wearing last weeks lip gloss. Shibuya is also home to a quality skewers restaurant were we sampled everything from basic yakitori to lotus root.

We spent a huge chunk of time in Harajuku returning day after day. Stephany and I never spied the classic "harajuku girl" in her Gothic Lolita wear and if we did it was often westerners playing dress up. Harajuku is home to small unique shops. It reminded me a bit of 23rd st. at home except cheaper and a bit more trendy. Stephany even bought her own Loita dress here among the row and rows of the super floofy.

It seems that I was the only one in town who didn't know about this place. A thriving electronics market, Akihabara is also home to the strangest Japan has to ofter. Maid Cafes are a dime a dozen here as are stores selling pornographic comic books and figurines. Akihabara is the core of the strange counter-culture of Anime that has spread throughout the world. Stephany and I had a great time poking around, shopping for vintage video games and playing in the arcades. The arcades are a attraction in themselves. They are six of more levels of joystick pushing action. One of the floors is for picture booths. Stephany and I took our picture only to discover that its had automatically whitened our skin and magnified our eyes. Yes, we do look like aliens. The bottom floor is devoted to claw machines wear 100 yen buys you one shot at toys, movies, porn, live jellyfish and salamanders or cigarettes. As strange as this counter-culture is, it was a relief to see. I am still attempting to find some deviance in Korea.

For anyone who cares this is were I am planning on moving to. As soon as I learn Japanese and find a local job that is. Kichijori is a neighborhood a half hour train ride out of central Tokyo. Stephany and I came here because we had tickets to see the Ghibi Museum (for a Japanese animation studio). The museum was clever and whimsical. It was great fun tracking down all of the signatures, sketches and picture of my favorite Pixar artists as they are fans of Ghibi and often come visit.

What stole the show for me however, is the neighborhood. Quaint shops, tree lined streets and a large park with a lake. How could this fresh example of suburbia be so close to the largest city in the world? And further more how can I move there?

I love Tokyo and I apologize for only writing about snippets of our adventures. I really must rush because my flight for Beijing leaves in 48 hours and I still need to pack. Let me leave you with this.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the famous rockabillies of Yoyogi Park

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Kakegawa and Nara

The Kalks and Urhausens are a adventurous bunch, including my cousin Nikki who is teaching in Kakegawa. Stephany and I stayed with her one night in the midst of a torrential storm. The weather kept us from exploring much of the town. Instead Nikki introduced me to my two new favorite foods sake in a juice box and sakura mochi (pink sweet rice wrapped in a cherry tree leaf). Nikki works for Aeon and is lucky enough to teach adults and kids. The demand to learn English is much lower in Japan than in Korea. Nikki's Aeon was the only language school in her adorable town. Despite Kakegawa having fewer foreigners than in Daegu, the locals were nonplussed about Stephany and I hoofing around. Oh and by the way, if your ever in the mood for a macaroon the best ones are in Kakegawa. A bold statement I stand by.

After our overnight we were off to Nara. The capital of Japan for a brief period in the 700's, Nara ranks up with Kyoto in terms of Japanese history. We had a good deal of back tracking to do in order to see Nara and I want to thank Stephany for putting up with me, as I was determined to see the city. The main reason I wanted to see Nara was Todai-ji (remember ji= Zen Buddhist temple). The worlds largest wooden building, Todai-ji is one of the Japan's iconic buildings. It was originally built in 728 and suffered through several fires. The current building was finished in 1709 and is 30% smaller than the original. Inside sits the Daibutsu, a 50 foot bronze Buddha. I wish the weather would have been nicer that day as I wanted to see more of details engraved on the bronze. However the lack of interior lighting creates a feeling that the line between earth and the divine is being blurred. This "smudging"of mundane reality is the reason that when I travel my favorite thing to see is holy places whether they are shrines, temples, mosques or cathedrals.

In one of the pillars in Todai-ji has a large hole exactly the same size as one of Daibutsu's nostrils. Lore says that if you can crawl through the hole you will achieve enlightenment in your next life. I dared Stephany to squeeze through the pillar and she did! She had a large audience of school boys on a field trip. I started to chant "nice shot, nice shot" (a famous english phrase thanks to video games) and soon enough everyone joined in. This rush of dorky adrenaline has to be one of my favorite memories from the trip. The silliness in the temple was not out of place in the country where Hello Kitty sits on Buddha's lap.

Nara is also famous for its tame deer who are a religious symbol in both Buddhism and Shintoism. The deer are tame until the second you buy a deer biscuit from the vendor. After which, they will jump up on you like a dog standing on its hind legs to get a treat. I created the challenge to see who could get the best party pic (you hold out the camera with one arm and take your own picture) with a deer. The other tourists must have believed that we had gone off of the deep end as we ran around putting one arm over the deer and taking picture of ourselves. Not quite the proper way to treat the messengers of the Kami. Sorry Nara deer....

After a long day of traveling we returned to the bullet train station and begin the journey to our final destination, TOKYO!