Tuesday, March 29, 2011

This weekend was a good one.  On Friday I went to a Samgyepsal (pork) restaurant with some friends, and then we headed to... the Live Jazz Bar!  Now, Pohang certainly doesn't have the reputation that Seoul, Busan, or even Daegu has.  It's smaller and it's dominated by Posco, the huge steel factory that pollutes our air and water.  Changsong-dong, the neighborhood where we live is somewhat trashy - meaning there's lots of garbage on the ground, everywhere.  And I've even heard of Pohang being referred to as the armpit of Korea.  But despite these things, this city has slowly been growing on me more and more.  One reason for this is that there are these cool little spots in the area that I find quite interesting, cultural, or homely - like Jukto Market, or Bogyeongsa, or Bukbu beach, or Tilt, or the Live Jazz Bar!.  The Live Jazz Bar is a small bar on the third floor of one of the many multi-storied-multi-purposed-multi-business buildings in that line the streets and that I find characterize Korean cities well. 
This is a pretty good example
The lighting in the Live Jazz Bar is cozy; we sat on tall comfortable dinning chairs; and we were only one of two groups of people in there.  Then, around a quarter to ten, four guys stepped onto the small stage and started playing really good jazz music.  I've never really gotten into jazz, but whenever I hear it, it always reminds me of driving home at night - it's a good, comfortable feeling.  And these were good musicians, which doesn't really surprise me given most Koreans' talent for music.  One guy played the keyboard, another was on a smaller electric guitar, another played the saxophone, and the fourth, the owner of the bar, played a big bass Cello.  I'm not a musician at all so I'm usually quite mesmerized by people who can play a musical instrument well.  We sat and listened as they played for quite a while; Larina, my co-teacher who has a beautiful opera voice, was brave enough to sing for us all; and we went home having experienced another something new.

Saturday morning I was woken up by Kory, with whom I had made a scooter repair date for 9:30.  He knows a guy who fixes and sells scooters nearby and so he offered to help me take my scooter to the guy so he could take a look at it.  Which was great because Kory has a car... into which he thought we could fit the scooter somehow... and we did! somehow.  We squeezed as much of it as we could into the trunk and then with most of it hanging out, held on by bungee cords, we cautiously drove down to the scooter guy who didn't seem all that surprised by our transportation methods (We were probably not the first to move a busted scooter like that).  Well, the guy fiddled with it for a good hour, communicating with me through a friend who translated over the phone, and eventually decided that there must be something stuck inside the engine which would mean it would have to be disassembled.  That would have taken some time and money, and I had gone into the situation with the idea that trading the scooter in for a better one would be an option.  And that's what happened.  He showed me the one that he'd be willing to trade, gave me a good price, laughed at me when I tried to barter, took my money, and that was it.  I have a new scooter!  It feels nice to have the freedom of getting around whenever I need to.
And that was just the morning.  That afternoon a group got together for some beech baseball (which I'm hoping will become somewhat of a bi-weekly tradition around here).  Baseball was fun, but it was a little too cold and we didn't have too many people, so after a while we decided to go to a game room instead.  Now, I don't think I've really written about Korean PC bongs, or Nori bongs yet, which will have to happen at some point, but something I find very unique to Korean life is the many different entertainment rooms ('bong' means room) that are found everywhere in Korea.  The place we went to was partly a nori bong (singing room) and partly a gaming bong.  So, around 20 of us just walked in to one of the rooms and played Nintendo Wii for a good 2 hours.  It's sort of crazy to me that there are these places with the sole purpose of giving groups of people a place to hang out and play video games.  But what's more was that this place was beautiful - that clearly someone had spent a lot of time designing and decorating it.  So that was fun.
That night, I joined people going to a friend's apartments where we played Apples to Apples - a good group game.  There I met a Korean guy named Moopy, who I ended up having a long and very enjoyable discussion with.  I found that him to be quite different from most Koreans that I've met, that he doesn't really follow the same cultural expectations (having to do with marriage for example) that I find others do here.  He is a very deep guy and we had a great discussion about love, religion, and life in general.  Afterwards, I went to Tilt where they had a mini dance party going and I got to dance the night away - something I've done quite a few times lately.

Sunday was the day of our first home soccer game!  After church, David, an awesome guy from South Africa, drove some of us over to Uidok University where our home games are played.  We were playing a good Busan team and I'd say our team hasn't yet reached it's full potential, so I didn't expect to win.  We didn't, win, but we played very well I thought.  We have some new guys and I have high hopes for this season.  Mostly it was just awesome to be playing soccer again.

It doesn't end there though - well, the weekend does, but the fun doesn't.  After school today I scooted over to Frank's apartment.  Frank is a guy from the upper penninsula, and one of the coolest.  He's also the king of games.  He's got lots of them.  Tonight, in his very homely apartment, he made me and 3 other friends some super burgers and then we sat down to play games.  We played two games that I've never heard of before (which isn't suprising, coming from Frank).  The first one, called "Slapshot", was made around 1983, in which each player manages it's own hockey team.  It's a simple game and very fun.  Then we played a Korean game which turned out to be very much like the card game called "President (or Butt)", which we used to play on the bus in high school.  It was another great night.

All in all, things are going well.  Summer is coming.  And someone else is coming too, but I can't talk about that yet - next week.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Week Mom and Dad Came

A good thing has come to an end.  My parents' visit to Pohang ended this afternoon. They took a bus to Seoul where they'll be staying until Thursday.  But it was a good thing.  It was wonderful to have them here.  It has made me feel more settled - a little more like I belong here - and that feels good.  And I think they enjoyed being here as well.
It turns out that mom and dad are more adventurous than I thought.  While I was at work during the week, they courageously braved the Pohang Public Transit System and explored the area quite extensively.  After being here for only 8 days, they've now been to a number of places that I've never been to myself.
They went downtown, to Jukto market a couple of times, which they enjoyed..

On Wednesday, they went to GyeongJu where Amber, a wonderful friend (and university professor with lots of extra time), gave them a tour...

And they went to Homigot, one of the most easterly points in Korea where people go to see the sunrise on New Years.  They said they enjoyed the eventful bus trip there and back more than the actual place, but at least they had a good time.  The eventful bus trip included waiting in a bus shack, on heated seats, with lots of chatty ajumas for 3/4 of an hour; a beautiful bus trip along the coast with a typical Pohang bus driver with bad driving habits; and a ride home in a taxi which they shared with a korean couple ...

And this was all done without me!  While I went off to work in the mornings, I was slightly jealous of their free time, but also glad that they were able to explore on their own.
Then on Friday, when I was finally free of work, I got to show them Tilt, the local foreigner bar.  I was able to introduce them to some of my friends and despite being a little embarrassed by Andy, the owner, who was a little drunk, we had a good time.  One of my friends, Chloe, even brought a birthday cake since it was the day before my birthday.

Then on Saturday, my birthday, we headed off to Busan.  Busan is the second largest city in Korea, it's quite a bit bigger than Toronto, and I had never been before, so I was excited for the adventure.
We first visited Beomeosa, an old and quite important Buddhist temple that is still in use. 

There we received a very happy call from Peter and Celina, my brother and sister-in-law.

From there we took the subway to Busan's busy coast, the 5th largest port in the world, where we walked around the Jagalchi fish market.  I've never seen so much fish in my life.  They had 2 large buildings with floors full of all kinds of fresh fish, dried fish, and sliced fish.  I've never been one for seafood, but this was pretty cool.

Then we subwayed over to Haeundae Beach, the most well known of Busan's beaches.  If we had come in the summer, the place would have been packed - many of my students' families spend their weekends on Haeundae Beach during the summer.  Afterwards, we took went back to the bus station and headed home, tired and content.

Yesterday it rained in the morning, the only bad weather of the week which we were thankful for.  But the rain let up in the afternoon, which was good because after church, Mr. Lee, a Korean friend who I'd met at church, was going to take us to Bogyeongsa, the nearest temple to Pohang (where I had earlier saved a woman from drowning [lest we had forgotten]).  Except, before taking us to Bogyeongsa, Mr. Lee first wanted to show us around his part of town.  He took us to a pretty nice park that I was happy to find out about, and then he invited us over to his apartment for coffee.  And, though I couldn't help but feel a little like he was 'using' us to help his family practice their English, it was nice to see the inside of his apartment and meet his wife and son.  We then finally did make it to Bogyeongsa and I was glad to be able to show it to mom and dad.  It's a beautiful temple and it's become one of my favourite places in the area. 

By then it was too late to make it to the waterfalls.  So Mr. Lee took us home and we had supper at the small soup restaurant right beside my apartment.
Today, after lunch, we said goodbye and they were off this afternoon.

For me, the highlights of my parent's visit were:
1. Eating meals with them.  Mom made a couple of super suppers, which I had been missing.  And they joined me for most of my lunch breaks so that I could show them my 2 lunchtime joints.
The buffet lady:

And 'Yabez', the small toast/gimbap place nearby:

We also went out for dinner a couple of times.  Mom really likes the open style, do-it-yourself restaurants here; dad isn't so sure he does.

2. Fixing my clogged toilet: It turned out that it wasn't ready for 2 extra people living in my apartment so it became 'jammed up' early on in the week.  I didn't have a plunger so dad and I had to temporarily steal/borrow the one from the Family Mart bathroom.  Happily, my toilets back to working order and Teagan bought me a plunger should the problem arise again.

3. Sounding out GyeongJu: dad never quite got it, along with a number of other Korean words, and I couldn't help but giggle every time.

4.  An impromptu conversation between dad and a very cute and brave Korean girl on the Busan subway:  Dad sat down beside her and, building up her courage, she boldly started a conversation with him by asked him where he was from.  I just thought it was cool that such a young girl would feel confident enough to ask a stange man of another culture a question.

5. Showing them my school and introducing them to some of my students.

6. Watching CBC news at night in my apartment.

7. Being able to hug and say goodnight to them.

It was a blessing to have them.
Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Our neighbours to the east have been hit hard with an earthquake and tsunami.  If this would have happened while I still lived in North America I would have been aware of it, but it wouldn't have sunk in like it has now, being in Asia, quite close to it.  This might be the closest I've been to a large natural disaster and it's interesting to me how physical proximity makes such a difference in situations like this.  I think it's often easy to allow physical distance to be our excuse for not giving proper thought or concern for major world events.
Korea itself wasn't affected by either the earthquake or tsunami, being shielded by Japan.  But I can't help but realize that things would have been a lot different for the people of Pohang had the earthquake happened on the other side of Japan.  As it is, I'm safe, but there are thousands who are suffering not far from here.

On another note, mom and dad arrived late Saturday night and are currently asleep on my bed.  They've had a pretty busy two days so far.  Yesterday dad was the 'last minute' substitute guest pastor at my church.  He preached on the importance of drawing the line in those parts of our lives that can become too important to us.  Many people in the church, myself included, thought he did a good job.  Then, after buying some groceries, we walked to the beach.  It was a beautiful day, the nicest so far this year, so it was perfect weather for me to show them the very popular summer hangout spot for the foreigner crowd that is Bukbu Beachee (which is how it is pronounced in Korean).  We ran into a couple of my friends and then continued on to the Indian curry restaurant.  I felt a little bad about not bringing them to a more traditional Korean place on their first day, but the Indian place reminds me of Toronto and I'd wanted to go there with them at some point.  After supper we walked home and fell asleep early.
Today I met mom and dad for lunch and we went to the local Korean buffet where a busy Korean lady daily serves a variety Korean side dishes (kimchi and some things I've never seen before) as well as soup and sometimes fish, both of which I find to be the best I've ever had.  I've been going there quite often lately.  Mom and dad found it an interesting cultural experience, and didn't eat all their kimchi or funny brown things.  Tonight, the other English teachers at Poly and another local teacher joined us at a duck restaurant, which I think mom and dad enjoyed a little more.
While I was at school during the day they wandered around the area a little and also got some work done in my apartment.  Maybe tomorrow they'll venture downtown on the bus.  They're being good sports about being left alone in a foreign country for most of the day.
Having them here is great for me.  I'm very lucky to have such a loving family.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, March 7, 2011


The moon is smiling tonight.  No kidding.  It's a crescent moon, but the crescent is on the bottom of the moon, so it's as if it were smiling.  I've never seen that before.  It's possible that it doesn't happen in North America.  I don't know but I wonder what it's happy about.

My parents are coming to visit me this coming weekend! I'm very excited for it.  They're so good to me.  And this has reminded me that I've wanted to write about families, and family life in Korea, so that's what I'll do.
One very prominent way that Korea holds to Confucian values is in it's family life.  To Koreans, the family is the most important group that one is a part of.  A person's family plays a large role in their life - much larger than in western culture I would dare to say.  One particular way that I've seen this to be true has to do with the amount of influence that parents and grandparents play on their children's (even adult children's) decisions.  In conversations with a number of Korean co-teachers, I've been surprised by how much say their parents have in things like where they go to college and what job they get.  A number of times I've heard them say, "I'd like to do this, but my parents want me to do that instead."  Also, I've found it somewhat true that Koreans live with their parents longer than in western culture.  I believe that, traditionally, children continue living with their families until they get married, which (according to wikipedia) on avarage doesn't happen until they are 31.6 (for men) and 28.7 (for women) years of age.  I know a number of Koreans who are around my age and are living with their parents.
Moreover, I've found that the importance placed on family relationships includes a person's extended family.  When I ask my students what they did over the weekend, the most common answer I get is, "I visited my grandparents."  I've found that a person's uncle, aunt, and cousins are usually quite important as well.  This can be seen when almost every business closes and traffic is crazy during Korean holidays like Chuseok and Lunar New Year because everyone is visiting and spending time with their extended families.
Finally, when you think of Korean families you have to take into account that Korea's Total Fertility Rate is 1.23, which is 219th among 224 countries, according to the World Factbook.  Most families in Korea don't have more than two children.  I only know of one of my students who is in a family of three children.  I had thought there might be a limit on how many children a woman can have in Korea, but I can't find any information to support that notion.
And that's what I've found to be true about families in Korea.

As for me, I'm slowly but surely adjusting to the recent changes.  My new class has had a reputation for being a somewhat uncontrollable class, but while I have had to be much more of a disciplinarian with them than with my previous class, so far things are going much better than I'd expected.  Also, I think having a tougher class is a good challenge for me.  I'm pretty sure I was taking 'having the the best class in the world' for granted, and I forgot about what it was like to discipline.  So it's good.

And my parents are coming. Yay!
Thanks for reading.

Ps. Here is a link to a good song that I've been listening to lately.  It's by Macy Gray and it's called "Beauty in the World".  (Hopefully it'll makes you smile like the moon)