Saturday, September 25, 2010


  Apologies for not keeping to my blog schedule, but it's for a good reason.  This week was Chuseok - the Korean harvest/equinox holiday when people visit their families and their ancestors grave sites.  (Aside: Korean graves are different than ones I'm used to.  People aren't buried in grave yards, it seems that they are buried in important places for them, or close to their home.  So when you drive down the highway you see sporadic grave sites in the hills.  And you know its a grave not because of a grave stone, but because of the small mound of earth over the grave).
  For me, Chuseok started on Monday when all the kids showed up to school wearing their Korean Hanbok, which is a really fancy, colourful, traditional clothing worn by both guys and girls.  I didn't have my camera, so I didn't get any pictures, but my kids looked awesome.  In the morning the whole school did some fun activities like making songpyeon - small rice cakes with red bean paste inside - and having a tug of war competition. 
  Our school had the rest of the week off, so Monday evening I took a bus to Seoul with Natasha and Luke and stayed with Brigette, a friend of Luke's, in her really small apartment.  Then, in the morning, the four of us met up with five other friends and we took a bus to a place about 2 hours south of Seoul. 
  Let me tell you about this place.  We stayed in a 'pension', a guest house (which was already cool because I haven't been in an actual house in a while).  And we were right on the side of a mountain and surrounded by countless, beautiful, cloud filled, forested mountains - I've decided it's my favourite place in Korea.  It was so nice to be outside the city in the trees and hills.
  Now, the main reason that we went to this place was because nearby was a spot where we could go paragliding - and there was a lot of excitement about this opportunity, as you can imagine.  But Tuesday was rainy which meant we couldn't go that afternoon.  So instead we stayed around the pension instead.  There they had this game called Nol-Ttwigi.  It's basically a shallow see-saw, but instead of sitting on either side, you stand and jump.  When you land you send your partner in the air, and when they land, you are sent up.  It takes some practice and good timing to do it well, but I thought it was great because of how simple it is.
  Then we cooked dinner outside, under a tent, amidst the pouring rain - it was pretty great.  We made Samgyeopsal, which is thick slabs of pork fried (or in this case BBQed) and then usually eaten wrapped in a lettuce leaf with other possible toppings like onion, garlic, bean paste, and of course kimchi.  I've had Samgyeopsal a number of times at restaurants (where they fry it up right in front of you), but this was the first time I've had a part in making it - it was a small part, but it was fun.  Then we played some cards and got to bed with the hopes that Wednesday would be paragliding weather.
  We wouldn't be disappointed.  Wednesday was cloudy and cool but rainless.  Yet, though some of us were anxious to get to paragliding as early as possible, our host - the really cool man who owned and ran the place with his wife - decided that first we needed to take part in making Duk, which is basically rice pounded into a paste.  So we all took a turn swinging the hammer at this glob of rice, which eventually, when flavoured with peanut powder, tasted pretty good.
  Then it was decided that we were going to take a trip through the mountain trails driving ATVs.  This turned out to be a great idea.  ATVs might not be the most environmentally friendly way of getting around, but they're pretty sweet, and it meant that we could go quite a ways and see more of the area.  And the mountains were awesome - the pictures don't do the beauty of it justice.
  Then, finally, when we got back, it was time to go paragliding.  Our wonderful host drove us down our mountain, to the small town, and up another mountain to the paragliding spot.  The view was fantastic and scary because in a short while we would be jumping into it.  We were to be tandom paragliding - partnered with one of two guides - so when we got there I was expecting a long explanation about safety and what to do and what not to do.  But this didn't really happen.  In a short 3 minutes we were told the two rules - run when the guide says run, and sit when he says sit - and then they were already strapping in Zander, the courageous one for going first, into the parachute, running down the short ledge as the parachute caught the wind and lifted, and sailing off into mid-air.  I was somewhat amazed by how simple jumping off a mountain could be.  One-by-one we went, waiting in between pairs as the guides drove themselves, the parachutes, and us back up the mountain to do it again with the next pair.  And I did it.  It was pretty awesome - but mostly it made me nauseous.  I don't know why, but I think the fact that I was out in the middle of nothing without control of what happened to me just didn't jive with my stomach.  And it didn't help that we did a spiral trick where you spin around in circles on the way down.  But I'm glad I did it.
  Afterwards, we packed up our stuff, drove to the town, had a much needed supper of Bibimbap (a warm rice, vegetables, egg mixture), and took the bus back to Seoul.
  On Thursday, Natasha and I spent the day walking around parts of Seoul, buying books at a sweet English book store, figuring out the Seoul Metro - which really is impressive, leaving the books that I bought on the Seoul Metro - which isn't impressive, visiting a cool museum on Korean palaces and royalty, meeting up with some of the others again, having dinner, and singing our throats sore at a Norebong.  We wondered about if we'd rather live in Seoul than Pohang, and though I liked how Seoul has so many more options than Pohang, so many more foreigners and foreign stores, and a really great subway system, I think I like Pohang better for its size, and because it's sort of starting to feel like home.  When we came back to Pohang in a bus yesterday, I noticed that I felt differently towards Pohang than I did when I first arrived.  I'm getting to know the city and I'm happy to be here.
  There are a lot of details about the trip that I didn't write about, and this is a bit more of a rambling blog than others.  But hopefully this gives you an idea of what my trip was like.  Here are some pictures (the rest will be on facebook), and a video of my paragliding adventure:

The view from our pension.

The nine of us near our pension

Rain supper

Zander and Lay playing Nol-Ttwigi

Pounding the Duk

Luke the Kiwi - who grew up on these things, and who made the whole trip possible for me.

ATVing through beautiful but funny smelling flowers on the side of mountain.

A panaramic of the view at the top of our mountain.

The view that we jumped into.

We're not all there, and those who are there didn't all jump.

Peter this picture is for you.  We were having breakfast in Seoul and across the street was a store selling sports jerseys and if you look close you can see a Montreal Canadians jersey. I was flabergasted to see a hockey jersey in Korea let alone a Canadians jersey.  And then the tree is a Ginko tree, which are everywhere in Seoul and and pretty common in Pohang.

The palace that we didn't actually go into because the line was too long. But instead we went to the museum next to it.

Royal Hanboks that are really awesome and I think a bit scary.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sun, Sickness, and a Bucket List

Today was a beautiful day.  The weather has gotten a little cooler, but it's still pretty warm, and today was completely sunny.  We're able to get out onto the roof of our school and so lieing up there in the sun was the highlight of my day.  Also, Natasha can juggle and we're practicing juggling together (when you switch balls/bean-bags).  So we did that on the roof as well and that was great.

Myself and quite a few others were pretty sick this week.  I had a doozer of a cold, but it's clearing up finally.  My cold didn't keep me from playing in a small soccer tournament this past weekend though (I'm quietly proud of myself for going despite my condition).  But I felt terrible the next day.

The Korean vacation of Chuseok is next week and we get every day except Monday off.  This is a big deal because it sounds like we don't get very many vacations.  I don't have the money to do anything big so my plan was to stay around here and get to know the area.  Then a friend let me know about a paragliding and river rafting trip that he might be going on and says there are extra spots available.  So I'd be pretty pumped if that happened.  I've never done either of those - and I really should sometime.  I've found that discussions about activities like these bring up people's well formed or not well formed 'bucket lists'.  It's got me thinking about weather I have one or not.  I never really had a clear bucket list before, but it's not a bad idea.  Having dreams and goals to aspire towards is a good thing.  So here are my initial ideas of things I'd like to do in the future:  1) While I'm in Asia, I'd like to travel to at least a couple different countries at some point - China probably being one of them, and then maybe the Philippines or Cambodia.  2) I'd like to go to Europe also at some point.  And there, watch a soccer game and visit a castle.  3) On my wall I have a poster of Machu Picchu in Peru and I've always told myself that I'll go there someday.  4) I'd like to climb as many mountains/hills that I can.  5) I'd like to work as an outdoor educator (again I guess).  6) I'd like to be able to fix a car (so keep trying to teach me Dad).  7) I'd like to own a garden and grow most of my food at some point.  8) I'd like to live out of a backpack for a good chunk of time.  9) And of course - own a scooter while I'm in Pohang.  I'm sure there is more that I'm not thinking of, but this is a start at least.

Here is a link to a video about Pohang.  Some of the places in the video are familiar to me.

And as I promised, here's a picture of my sweet awesome chair that I got from the side of the road.

It's a little more like a throne than a chair, I think.  And it's really comfortable.  I'm sitting on it right now actually; what a coincidence.
Thanks for reading,

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Down Side

I've been accused before of only seeing the bright side, and I think it's mostly true, and I'm glad it is.  But in this blog I want to write about the down side of being here in Korea, because things aren't all roses (not like my wallpaper).
Being an English teacher in Korea comes with it's drama.  There are plenty of horror stories of teachers who just don't get paid, or who are overworked and underpaid.  This isn't true at Poly school; we are paid on time every month (actually today was pay day), and in my opinion, we certainly aren't over worked,  But that doesn't mean that there isn't our share of controversy at Poly. This week, other teachers have started pushing to get our pension because we've realized that it's a Korean law that we receive it, but it's not part of our contract.  So it took some effort on the part of other teachers, but things seem to have worked out and we will get our pension.  Now I don't know anything about pensions, and I would have obliviously went without it if I were on my own.  But I tell this story as an example of the misscommunications that occur between our Korean directors who don't speak much English and the English teachers who don't speak any Korean.  And this has caused some frustration no doubt on both sides of the coin.
Second,  the foreign teachers group here has been very welcoming and I'm very lucky to be in a place with people I can get to know.  But predominantly the thing to do with this group is to drink and hang out (with an emphasis on drinking).  I don't have anything against drinking, I've really enjoyed getting tipsy with others and getting to know others in that setting.  But when I've thought about it, it's somewhat disappointing.  It would be nice to have some more creativity in a group of teachers who are representing a different culture.  (This does not mean that everyone here is like that.)
So that's my downside blog.  Overall, things are going well.  I found a pretty sweet chair on the side of the road a couple of days ago.  We called up Sarah and Jonas, out sweet friends with a car, and they picked up the chair and brought it to my apartment. It's a good addition to my pretty empty home.  And I'll provide pictures soon.
Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I usually have an idea in my head about what I can blog about, but today I didn't.  So I went for a run, and it ended up being one of the best runs ever.  I discovered my favourite spot in Pohang - it's called Sunrise Park (I can't read the signs but that's what I've been told it's called I'm pretty sure).  And since I can't read the signs I got lost, but that's typical for great run.  I knew it was out there but I'd never been through it before, and tonight I just sort of stumbled upon it.  So that was pretty great.  If you visit me I'll take you there.

Work has been good and somewhat repetitive.  And the weekends are always very fun.  The highlight of this past weekend was going to a bar with an unused drum kit and getting to rock out with some awesome guitarists.

Other than that, I think I'm in the middle of the transition between being new here and whatever the next stage is.  So maybe when that stage sinks in I'll have more to talk about.
I don't even have any pictures this week.

Thanks for reading.