2010년 12월 23일 목요일

A new year, a new place

A year of living in Korea passed a couple of months ago, but I had spent some of that time in Seoul before I came to the nicer city. Because of that, my one year working contract with the school down here only just expired. Having not had my 'fill' of the country yet, I signed on for another year.

The company I've been working for, the Chungdahm Institute in Busan has been excellent in most areas. I'm glad I signed on with them from the beginning, and I'm happy to be working for them another year. And I'm not just saying that because I know some of the staff read this blog. Ha.
For the new contract, I got a chance to find new accommodation which we found in Seomyeon. The photo above is of my old room in Gaya-dong, with everything in a moderate state of disarray, ready for the big move the following day. The move itself went pretty smoothly.

Here's the living room of my new place in the middle of the city. I'm living with a flatmate now, Canadian John from the old branch and things are going as well as I could ask for. We have two bedrooms, a double loft (that could fit another person really) and an intelligent refrigerator that complains if you leave the door open too long. On the table there is my pet plant, Beeblebrox, who I've managed to look after for quite a while now. Usually my plants die inexplicably after a couple of months, but Beeblebrox is a survivor. He's watching me blog right now.

This is the bathroom, with bidet toilet and body shower. Using a bidet seems to make more hygienic sense, but call me old fashioned when I say that nothing's as good as some nice folded toilet paper. The shower is cool as well, it has multiple functions on it including a body shower where it sprays these directed nozzles all over the showeree. Much different from my old one, which sometimes had hot water for more than 3 minutes if I was lucky.

This is my new bedroom, which I've slowly been filling up with stuff. The view at night is quite nice and the windows are soundproofed fairly well. How much are we paying for this place you wonder? It's about AU$700 per month, split with my flatmate. So less than $100 dollars per week each. That's the good thing about living in Busan vs Seoul, accommodation and things in general are cheaper. The downside was that there was a heavy key-money (similar to bond money back home) of about AU$23,000. Our company paid half of it for us.

This is the view from the living room. Seomyeon is probably the busiest area of Busan, because it's a shopping district centered on a subway interchange point. And yes, right next door to us is the 7-luck casino. Most casinos in Korea are only open to foreigners, and all food and alcohol is free. If you use the freebies without playing too much though, you do get politely asked to leave and never come back.

Soon after moving into our new place, we played hosts for Eric's birthday party. There were lots of people drinking and talking and then we went down to the beach. It went pretty well.

Then, because the timing went a bit funny, our housewarming party was the following weekend. We invited some staff members and I cooked some food. Typical conversations at events like these will be half in Korean and half in English.

Looking back at us there, in the hat, is Paul. He often drinks a lot and forgets what happened the next day. Sometimes I forget too. It's all a part of living in Korea.

Living downstairs are our co-workers, Jef and Elissa. They have the identical apartment to us, just seven floors down. This photo is from the aftermath of their housewarming.

And this is the aftermath of Eric's birthday in our place. You may note distinct similarities and differences between the two.

For my new contract I got a promotion to a more supervisory role, where I watch CCTV videos of newer teachers. These are the first two new teachers at the Saha branch, John and Logan. As you can see they are quite happy chaps. Are they like that 24 hours a day?
Well, yes.

Here's another shot of them I had to include because Logan's face is rather entertaining. He belongs in a beer commercial.

And here are the other staff from the new branch on a night out in the neighbourhood. From left to right is Ken, Logan, Michelle, John, Christine, Me, Yang-min and squatting is Jordan. Just like it was at the old branch, we are all fairly easy-going and get along rather splendidly.

So anyway I decided that this new contract year would be a more productive one. I enrolled in Pusan National University for Korean language classes in the mornings. Right now they're running at 3 hours per day, 6 days per week and I haven't missed a class since I started 3 weeks ago. My Korean is fairly shoddy really, when I consider the time I've spent here. It's difficult to pick up a language if most of your co-workers and friends are English speakers and your job is an English teacher.

I took this photo at the beginning of the first day of class. The teacher is really nice and every lesson is taught in Korean. I'm actually the only westerner in my class, the others are Chinese, Japanese, Kazhakistani, Sri Lankan and Russian students.

Pusan National University is supposedly the best institution outside of Seoul. It's a nice campus with the mountains in the background and cheap food. Lunch is AU$1.50. It's nice to get back into uni life again too.

Between the subway and the campus is the PNU area, which is typical of the surroundings of any large Korean university. There are a lot of bars, karaoke rooms and restaurants tailored for a younger market. I walk through the area most days but don't have much time to enjoy it. Typically I'll wake up at 8:30am, eat brekky, travel to uni, take classes from 10am until 1pm, eat lunch and travel to work which I start around 2:30pm and finish at 10:30pm. Between uni and work there are 26 subway stops. So there's not much time for anything else during the week. But I like busy schedules, the same way I did in Australia. They keep me occupied.

Last Friday the Korean school took us for an excursion to see a Taekwondo instructor. We stretched, ran around, kicked the air and had some fun. The instructor was really friendly too, he told us that if we're learning Korean, we can come to his classes for free. Unfortuneately I don't have the time.

That's a picture of him there on the right. He's an 8th dan black belt instructor, which is quite high. On the left is his old teacher. Imagine if that guy was your father-in-law. Yikes.

And here's a picture of a fire we started at the last beach party of the summer. A bunch of us gathered at Gwangan beach to bid farewell to the warmer nights. Robyn Schultz, my fellow panelist from Seoul came down that night. Unfortunately we didn't take a picture together though. A big hello to everyone up in Seoul, you guys should come down here more often.

Anyway that's it for me! This weekend is Chuseok, which is kinda like Korean thanksgiving. So we get a nice four day weekend and time to relax.


Mudfest and Paintball

Every year on the west coast of Korea in a small town called Boryeong, there is a mud festival. For any warm blooded English teacher, the equation is simple: Beach + Mud + Beer = Yes, I will be attending.

For $70 we took a package that included transport, dinner and accommodation. The bus ride took us about 8 hours, so it was good to finally arrive. Boryeong itself is a nice little place, reminding me of Victor Harbour in Australia. The main beach stretches for about 4 kilometres.

Boryeong mud is a very fine and grey silt mix that is supposedly good for the skin. So the first step was to lather up from head to toe. The second step was to politely apply mud to spots that others had missed. The third step was a little less clear, but seemed to involve mud flying through the air and occasionally getting pelted by said mud.

Some photogenic Koreans getting in on the fun. The mud is actually pumped from the seabed and transported to the beach area. Council workers hand out buckets of it for free during the day. Photo: Jef Robison

The mud festival is well known in English teaching circles and about half the crowd were expats. Addition of mud made it more difficult to distinguish friends and strangers.

The Busan crew posing for a calendar shot. It is a surprisingly refreshing feeling to realise that there is a point when you can't get any muddier.

Here's me and Jef after working in the coal mines. Yes, I'm the one holding the balloon. As the mud began to dry, it started caking off and crumbling. Eventually even making small facial expressions resulted in little clumps falling off. It kind of felt like you were a statue magically brought to life.

By the end of the day there were a lot of people on the beach. Sailboats were out in the harbour and the odd jet ski about. The mud acted as good sun protection too. One of the strange things my American compadres were keen on was sunbathing. In Australia it's not so popular because we don't have much ozone.

Our accommodation was in a minbak, which are common family-run cheap rooms similar to a hostel. You basically get sleeping space, a community toilet and a cold shower room. It's tolerable for an overnight stay in summer.

Here are the facilities from the inside. There were about 50 of us that came on two buses from Busan and Daegu.

As night fell, people began to gather around the main stage on the beach for a concert. Those orderly policemen in the yellow shirts just seemed to be standing there for no reason, other than to look like an orderly line of yellow-shirted policemen. Males in Korea have to do military service at around 22 years old and many of them opt to do it in the police force.

Some of the cloud patterns toward dusk, which were prettier in real life. Altocumulus I believe.

The ladies organising the tour cooked a big meal, mainly consisting of barbecued bacon. When I first came to Korea, I remember being surprised at how much fatty bacon is eaten here. These days I just eat it and think about other stuff, like how difficult it is to find a good sandwich.

The concert at night seemed to have some famous people involved, evidenced by private security escorts for the singers. The front area was too crowded, so we spent most of the night on other areas of the beach, drinking and enjoying the warm air.

The next day I woke up a little late and had a lazy tour of the day's activities. This setup was near the main road and was attracting a crowd. From what I could deduce, landing on the floating yellow cushion without falling off resulted in a prize.

All in all, it was a good weekend away. This curious pattern you can see on the sand is common on Korean beaches and is caused by water that slowly emerges from the sand and makes its way into the ocean. I'm pretty sure that it's fresh water, seeping out of the water table which would be higher than sea level after a lot of rain. I guess Australia never gets enough rainfall for that to happen.

The next weekend we went paintballing down at Seongjeong beach. A bunch of us met up in Jangsan and got suited up in army fatigues. I'd done it a few times in Australia already and it's a lot of fun.
Me and John showing off our gear. I guess my team was the UN. In Korea, insurance isn't compulsory so it's a little cheaper to play. If you've never been paintballing before, it's something worth thinking about. The guns use a CO2 canister to shoot out pellets of paint that break on contact. They can shoot about 30 metres accurately and leave a nice bruise if you're hit at close range.

Tino and Sebastien are two German exchange students we met at Katie's birthday. They're here studying biotechnology, would you believe. So that kinda got me thinking that maybe I could continue with that career here. It's an idea I'll explore later in the year. After all, English teaching can only get you so far.

Pre-mission briefing. We had our own bases and mainly played 'Capture the Flag' type games. The whole playing field was a big jungle with piles of logs lying around.

Our blue helmets gave us a slight disadvantage in the jungle environment. So some of us created our own form of camouflage by sticking foliage in the air holes. It wasn't very effective, but it's a funny thing when a blue leafy helmeted person gets shot.

Running around the place in summer while wearing so much protective gear can get you very sticky. But it's never such a bad thing when everyone's dirty together. I call it 'The Mutual Hygiene Deficit Effect'.

Here we are after a victorious capturing-of-the-flag. I think I'm squatting down the front there. If only our students could see us like this...

And here we are back at the drop-off point, filthy, fatigued and flamboyantly fun-filled. One good afterthought I had at this point was to bring kneepads next time, because you tend to be kneeling and ducking a lot.

So after that, Sebastien had the brilliant idea of going to a chimchilbang, which are large public bath and sauna houses. A very nice way to get clean and relax, especially in the aromatherapy tub.

And after that we went to the D'Maris buffet in Jangsan. All you can eat seafood for $30. Needless to say, that basically left us falling asleep in our chairs.
Sometimes I feel bad for having such an easy life. What a good weekend out.

If you're a little bored with your life and have time to spare, why don't you think about a year in Korea? Ah, now I'm just rambling. See you next time.

Caribbean Bay

The scene below is from one of the hallways of U-Para in Haeundae. This franchise runs leisure centres around Korea, offering a huge variety of options to wind down. Primarily they're targeted at teenagers and children but there's also plenty of stuff for adults to do. You just come in, pay an entry fee of about $8 and most things are free or a small charge.

There's everything from bowling, pool and darts to massage chairs, karaoke rooms and music studios where you can play in your own band on real instruments.

Back in the day, I used to be a big fan of Timezone in Australia which were arcade gaming outlets. U-Para have an impressive range, including a lot of music machines I'd never seen before. You can play games that put you on electric guitars, turntables or traditional Korean drums. There's even a realistic railway train simulator (it was incredibly boring) and an unrealistic shovel tractor simulator (it was only slightly better). On the tractor simulator the objective is to shovel as much computerised sand onto the back of a truck in a given time frame. It was mildly surprising to find out how bland the earthmoving business can be.

Yup, you can even go fishing. You put in a deposit at the front desk and get handed a fishing rod and a plastic bag to put your catch in. The tanks were a little small but it didn't deter this guy, who seemed to be having a relaxing time.

And what exactly are you fishing for? Well, goldfish of course. This is another one of those crazy 'only in Korea' examples. When you catch them you can take them home or throw them back. I gave it a miss, but I watched the guy fishing for a while and the fish didn't seem to be biting. I guess they'd learned their lesson a few times in the past.

This is a scene from one of our occasional 'pot-lucks', where we gather at someone's house and each bring a dish of some sort. Here we're at Katie's apartment for her birthday. I usually make curries, which are rare in Korea and exceedingly difficult to find ingredients for. My curry powder was flown in from Malaysia by a friend and given to me last year. I'm using it sparingly. The other teachers like to cook Italian and Mexican recipes. These are also pretty much the only times when we drink red wine these days.

On the weekend we went up for a day at Caribbean Bay, near Seoul. We got up at 4:30am in the morning, took a 4 hour bus ride, spent the day there and came home before 9:30pm. It was a nice change but rather exhausting.

Caribbean Bay is Korea's largest waterpark. It covers an impressive expanse of land and is right next to Everland, another big amusement park. Entry fee is about $35, but we took a package that included transport from Busan for $80 which was pretty good value. This is the main artificial 'beach' area, where the water is lightly heated.

The park has surroundings with a lot of attention to detail, like this artificial waterfall. There's also Caribbean-style music playing from hidden areas behind the plants.

In the middle of the day, the main area starts to get pretty crowded. I've heard that the most popular beaches in Busan get worse than this in the summer. It was still enjoyable out in the deeper parts, but you do tend to get the occasional kick from passing swimmers.
An interesting quirk in Korean culture is that people generally don't apologise for accidentally bumping into you. On the subway you can get jostled around a lot and nobody will even make eye contact. It works both ways though, I've sometimes accidentally bumped into an old lady and turned around to apologise, only to find she's already on her merry way halfway down the street. I've started to get used to it.

One thing I also need to mention is that the main beach attraction is also a wave pool. At regular time intervals large hydraulic pumps create fairly large waves to excite the swimmers. It's a lot of fun. They can even make different styles of wave come out. Check out my video above. The first wave of the day was hilarious. A foghorn sounded, then everyone started screaming and more than a few people were bowled over in the ensuing chaos.

Winding its way around the park is this artificially flowing river. Water-pumps along the way drive it continuously in a clockwise direction no matter where you start. The current is strong but steady and if you grab something to float on it can be a relaxing way to tour the area. It even winds its way to the indoor section.

This outdoor jungle-gym feature has a lot of bells and whistles that invite further investigation. People on higher areas can direct jets of water onto the people below or fill up rotating buckets. Large mist sprays are periodically released into the air.

But the coolest thing is that the skull at the top is a huge bucket of water that is continuously filling up. Every 3 minutes a foghorn will sound and it will tip the entire contents onto the crowd below. It doesn't look as scary from here, but when you're standing under it, the weight of the water is surprisingly heavy and it gives you a cold shock. Julie was standing under it and it managed to pull out her earring.

Here's another view of that river we saw before. In this section the current speeds up a little and splits into different routes that you can choose.

There are also a few water slides around the place too. We went on one, but it took about 45 minutes to line up for, so we gave up on the rest. That steep orange one there is called The Bobsled and it's very fast, I think they clocked it at 80 km/hr.

Flow Riders are artificial surfing machines. A row of highly pressurized nozzles produce a 2 inch sheet of water over a rubber incline on which you can surf. In order to keep someone continuously afloat on such a thin film, it pumps out around 200,000 litres per minute.
I was impressed too.

Here's a video of someone on the machine, who has evidently had a little more practice than the average joe.

And here are the ladies who I spent the day with. On the left is Heather, then Emily (her sister) and Julie. It was Emily's idea to come out and see the waterpark. Good stuff.

This is my new card trick I was showing them. The ace switches suit really quickly and it's a regular deck of cards. Watch the ace after it gets flicked three times.
If you can't work it out, what's really happening is that I'm flicking one card behind the other very quickly.

We rented the hut closest for a reasonable fee and used it as a base. It was a really good idea and we even had a nap in it for a while. It was overlooking the wave pool and was a nice place to escape from all the hustle and bustle.

Well, if you've been following this blog since Day 1 you may realise that I started this merry little caper just about 1 year ago when I left Adelaide. I'll continue to blog whenever there are things interesting enough to talk about, which happens often enough in Korea. 'Quality before quantity' as someone somewhere once said.

It's been plenty of fun thus far and I hope the future will bring many new and interesting things to share with you all.