2007년 12월 24일 월요일

Guns, Thanksgiving and More Intestines

The end of the year is rapidly approaching. Seems like yesterday that it was New Year 2007. One day I think I'll wake up in Korea all of a sudden and say "Hey, wow... it's 2017 already and I'm 35".

Hopefully by that time I will have bought a house or something.

Is this yet another new addition to the household? Thankfully not. This 4 month old pup actually belongs to a friend of a friend and was just over for a visit. Because it hasn't been in the world very long, it didn't know how to get down if we put it on the drawers like this. It just stood and stared at us until we picked it up. I don't think I was too much brighter at 4 months of age too.

A while back it was (American) thanksgiving day, which is always a novelty to us Aussies. Devin and Tamara from the Gwangan branch hosted a turkey dinner at their house for all of the teachers at CDI. It was really good food.

More than 40 people showed up, but luckily they have a huge apartment. The logistics involved in catering for such a large group is always difficult, but they pulled it off flawlessly. There was plenty of turkey, salad, mashed potato, gravy and pie for everyone. I ate until I could eat no more, and then I felt sleepy and went home.
Have you heard that turkey makes you especially sleepy because it has the hormone tryptophan in it? I heard that a long time ago, but more recently I heard that it's an exaggerated claim and that turkey meat has about the same amount as pork.

In Beomnaegol, there is a cave bar. It's an artificial tunnel dug into the mountainside that used to be an old ammunition depot or something during the Korean war. It's pretty difficult to find if you don't know the way, but a large group of us managed to make the trek from the subway station. You can order food and there's usually water trickling down the sides of the walls. On the right hand side between the stone fence and the wall is a pool of water that has some dead bugs and stuff in it.

The speciality drink in the cave bar is dongdongju, homemade rice wine that is very similar to makkoli. It's the white liquid in the bowl there. As with makkoli, it tastes quite sweet and seems pretty mild until you stand up and try to navigate somewhere. Of all the alcohol in Korea, this stuff requires the most caution.

Who's that meat-head with a gun? Well, it's me of course. A couple of weeks ago we went to a shooting range down near the beach. The price was around $40 for ten bullets, so I chose a 9mm Beretta because it was cheapest. They also had Desert Eagles, Magnums and a Scorpion sub-machine gun for hire. I'm not particularly gun-crazy, but I think that you should try everything at least once in your life. Except things like suicide, cannibalism, reiki, etc.

In the lounge you can see everything on CCTV. The guns are really loud and had much more recoil than I expected.

Here are some of the more hilarious targets you can choose to fire at. Jordan chose the one on the left and managed to shoot the monkey-man in the eye, as well as the hostage. I'm not sure what the scenario is supposed to be for the poster on the right though. Kill or be killed, it's a dangerous world. I'm surprised they didn't have any 'terrorists'.

We recently realised that there's a ten pin bowling alley right near our house. The computer system is a bit old and you can't enter your name on the screen, but it's cheap and fun. Also, when the game's finished you can continue playing for free until the attendants tell you to stop. In this photo, Johnny-boy Ngo (my flatmate) is pretending to throw a ball at another guy we call 'Johnny blonde'. There are a lot of Johns in Korea, so we have to give them different nicknames. At Dongnae branch there is a Korean John that we call John-Actually (because he has a habit of using the word 'actually' to start every sentence) and at our branch we have a John that we refer to as Johnny Diamond. If you're called John and you're coming to Korea, think about choosing a nickname for yourself.

In some of the busier subway stations in Korea you can find ticket outlets for the movies like this one. This way you can figure out what you want to watch and get the tickets before reaching the cinema.

Here are some of my co-workers reading on the subway as they like to do. From the left is Nicole from New York, then Michelle from Ireland and Jordan from Canada. I haven't read a fiction novel since high school, partly because I'm usually busy and partly because I find Wikipedia much more interesting.

And here are the other two teachers that I work with, John and Logan from Philadelphia. At the U2 bar in Haeundae, when there's no band on stage apparently foreigners are allowed up to pretend they're rockstars for a fleeting moment. Well, no one complained anyway.

My students these days are usually pretty good. After teaching here for over a year, I've come to learn a few tricks of the trade and the job gets easier. When the students misbehave in class I make them write out lines like these during their breaktime. These two were written by some naughty elementary schoolers who were noisy and forgot their homework. You can click the photo to enlarge the text.

Last blog post we saw an intestine dish called makchang. In my quest for more intestinal knowledge here in Korea, I recently stumbled across a new kind of intestine called yang-gopchang, which is larger and comes from a cow instead of a pig. It's slightly pricier and slightly chewier. Restaurants in the Hwamyeong area of Busan specialize in this particular variety.

And here's Emily and Miya from the Hwamyeong branch. They're particularly happy in this photo due to the delightful anticipation of consuming aforementioned intestines.

Last weekend we went up to Seoul for the GOA'L christmas party which included a nice dinner and lots of merriment. Unfortunately I managed to leave my bag there and Heather's sister is going to send the contents down sometime. In the bag was my camera and MP3 player, so this blog post is missing a few of photos (I was lucky enough to put the memory stick for these photos in my jacket pocket). But that also means I missed out on taking some shots of Eric and Maria who came down from Seoul this weekend to visit. C'est la vie.

Hopefully it will arrive soon and blogging may continue.


2007년 11월 3일 토요일

Halloween and a Kitten

This is the latest addition to our household, a 2 month old kitten. Her Korean name is 삼순이, but her English name is Cat Farrand-Ngo.

Cute, no?

We'll talk more about her later.

Although I've been in Busan for a year now, I'd never got around to visiting 'Little Texas' or Foreigners Street' which is near the harbour. It's a blend of multicultural themes, kind of like a rainbow chinatown and it has a seedy reputation for being frequented by individuals who like seedy areas. What does that mean? I'm not entirely sure.

There's a fairly large Russian population in the city and I've never had much contact with Russian culture in general. Russian writing reminds me of Greek.

We ate in a Russian restaurant and I was expecting some stroganoff, but apparently that's not the only thing they eat in Russia. Our lunch consisted of potatoes and chicken, in a minimalist-style cooking approach. It was alright.

John and I decided to buy a television to compliment our newly enlarged living quarters. After investigating the options, we ended up buying a brand new 42 inch plasma screen. It's awesome. In Korea, electronics are cheaper because of companies like LG and Samsung. This one cost us 1.4 million Korean won, or about US$1500 (and that's with the new exchange rate). The equivalent model would be about double the price back home.

In this photo, Tim is playing Halo 3 online through an X-Box 360 modem, while John is using wireless internet on his laptop. We broadcast our public wi-fi signal 24 hours a day, so that anybody nearby can use it for free. Our apartment has an excessive amount of connectivity, throughout the different rooms there are 4 cable TV and 10 modem ports built into the walls. We only ever need to use one of each.

Halloween was never really celebrated in Australia and I was always under the impression that there was supposed to be a spooky theme to all the costumes. Apparently not. Jef and Elissa hosted this party and there were a variety of ingenius outfits. In the foreground there is John, as a giant piece of kimbap. Holding the large silver spoon and dressed up like a dog at the back is Austen, whose costume was 'dog soup'.

Here's Geoff, an American football player and English teacher who dressed up as Mr Incredible. He's a very friendly guy and actually went to his class like this to surprise the kids. Later on in the night he got a little drunk and ran onto the road pretending to push back trucks and cars that were waiting at the traffic lights.

After my first real Halloween party, I was able to conclude that it was all simply an excuse to dress up and drink a lot. We'd do that often in Australia anyway, just without the dressing up part.

My outfit, at minimal cost, was ilban-sureggi (or 'general rubbish') man. In Korea you have to buy special waste bags to dispose of general rubbish, as opposed to food waste or recyclables. I put some armholes into a 50-litre one and sticky-taped some examples of general waste to it. But this guy on the left seemed to do it much better. One of those plastic bottles was actually filled with alcohol that he was drinking. He told me his name, but at parties like this I tend to forget these things for some reason.

And here he is getting into a taxi to the second venue, after a considerable amount of effort.

The second venue was the PNU area, where there were a variety of costume parties. One of our friends won a $100 bar tab.

A friend of a friend found a dead stray cat on the side of the road one day, with three kittens meowing next to it. So he put them in a box and took them home. He was looking for new owners and we ended up taking one. I've always been more of a dog person myself, but after a few days with a kitten, I've come to appreciate the feline species a lot more. Her Korean name (Sam-Soon Li), comes from a tv show character. She's very cute.
The cat, that is.

She's very friendly and playful. I managed to clip her nails (with a notable amount of kitten-protest) the other day and so she's destroying our materials slightly less now. She is already toilet-trained and meows like a squeaky door when she's hungry. She also meows when she finishes eating, just to let us know.

An interesting biological feature of kittens is when you pick them up by the scruff of the neck. This can be safely done up to a few months of age, and is usually done by the mother when they need to be moved somewhere. Whenever we pick her up like this, she turns her head on the side and keeps completely still, until you put her down. She also tucks her feet up like a little bunny rabbit, which I would assume is so that they don't drag on the ground. It's a useful mechanism to exploit when she suddenly starts chewing on the cushions.

One of the dishes I've been recently warming to is dwae-ji-guk-bap. It's basically a pork soup, with a whole lot of strange looking pork pieces in it. It's really good. I've been finding that a lot of the food I eat nowadays is completely different to what I typically ate in the first few months here.

Aquariums in front of restaurants still grab my attention. These octopi were unusually large. If you buy a live octopus from the fish markets, they just put it in a shopping bag for you and you take it home while it constantly tries to escape its doom.

Arriving at the hakwon one day, I saw these abseiling window-washers cleaning our windows. One of my long-standing daydreams has always been to give this job a try. You'd get to peer into people's offices while enjoying nice views of the city.

These guys weren't using any real safety equipment, just an adjustable plank to sit on. And below them was no warning sign if they dropped something. If you think that's dangerous, you should see the construction workers here. They just walk around on scaffolding 10 stories high without any safety equipment. Other times you'll be walking on the street and all of a sudden a gaping hole in the sidewalk will appear, without fencing around it, just a couple of witches hats. Korea in general has a more 'watch out for yourself' policy. On the whole, I think it's a good thing, considering all the lawsuits that go on back home over very common-senseless incidents, and the ridiculously high cost of public liability insurance.

Korean school has been going really well. We're approaching the end of the term soon, when we'll graduate and have a holiday. I've learned a fair bit, but it will be nice to have a break. This is from one of the special events we had last week. We took an excursion out on the campus and had an outdoor lesson for hangeul (Korean writing script) day.

This is a shirt that Ki-woo, the student in front of me at Korean school wears sometimes. It always makes me ponder. The writing says "Motionless-message: I have 'aiways' thought so".

Hmm, me too.

Saying goodbye to the Lee's Korea Blog readers this week are the Chungdahm Institute administration staff, at Michelle and Jordan's housewarming party.

They're saying: See you next time!

2007년 10월 25일 목요일

Gwangali Fire Flower Festival

In case you haven't noticed, Korea is a very food-orientated society. While I was eating out maybe twice a week or so in Australia, over here I eat out pretty much everyday. The food in simple diners like Kim-bap Cheon-guk (that literally translates to 'seaweed-rice heaven') is about the same price you'd pay if you were to buy the ingredients yourself and cook it at home. They'll deliver it to your house for free and then come back later and collect your dirty dishes. You can even ask them to pick up some beer from a convenience store along the way.

Street vendors are also a prominent part of the food system. Ajummas will set up stalls on the side of the road selling things like dried squid, sausages and skewered meat. At places like these when it's busy, you take and eat what you want. Then it's up to you to tell the ajumma what you ate and pay for it at the end. Middle school kids have a reputation for paying suspiciously small amounts of money. Takgatchi (teriyaki chicken on a stick) is my favourite thing to eat.

Meet Heather. She's previously been on the blog in subtle ways, but now we've been dating for a year so that deserves a proper introduction. Congratulations hunni.

I used to work with her in the old branch and we somehow gravitated towards each other. In this photo she's standing outside an auditorium in central Busan, where we went to see a cultural performance involving her private music instructor.

Across from the auditorium is the UN memorial park. Living in Korea now, it's sometimes easy to forget that around 50 years ago this country was at war with itself. The memorial park is well-kept and a nice escape from the surrounding suburbia.

Then the performance started. It was a mixture of traditional Korean music and dance including pansori (acapella story-telling), samulnori (drums) and a lady dancing with a handkerchief. I liked the drums most. Because Heather is a student of one of the performers, we got our tickets for free.

The Busan International Film Festival also came and went over the course of a week. Its primary focus is on giving publicity and support to new directors. We went to see two movies, a Dutch and a German one. The Dutch one was about divorce and the German one was about a disturbed wife who abuses her cop husband. Both of them were mildly depressing. I like independent films, but even more so when they are about happy topics. I don't want to point any fingers, but somebody in this photo chose both movies. Heehee.

We found a new chimchilbang (bath house) in Jung-dong. It has all the usual things like saunas, hot tubs and massage chairs. One of the chairs is called the O2 Zone. You pull down a large visor when it starts and it releases peppermint oxygenated air while playing sounds of the rainforest. Upstairs are these little heated cubby-holes, where you can just crawl in and take a nap.

And then you go outside to these wading pools and get puzzled because everyone has their legs stuck in the water like this.

The wading pool has Doctor Fish in it. You put your feet in the water and these fish will come and eat the dead skin off your feet. They have rough lips and just scrape away gently. Sometimes they fight each other over who gets to nibble which part of the foot. Now that's something worth fighting for.

It's really ticklish the first time, but then becomes quite enjoyable. I would highly recommend it.

Here's a video of the Doctor Fish in action, when we went back the following week during the rain. They were a little more timid this time around.

Every year at Gwangali beach they hold a 'Fire Flower' festival which consists of a laser show and a lot of fireworks. I heard that they set off 80,000 fireworks on the night, for a cost of one million dollars, and a million people crowd the beach area to watch them. In the background there is Gwangali bridge, which is one of the most prominent landmarks in Busan.

We were lucky enough to find a rooftop that we weren't supposed to be on. It was on the 20th floor of an apartment building but a sign at the entrance prohibited us from using it. But funnily enough the door wasn't locked. So we hid in this utility room until the time was right. That's Mi-Kyong on the right talking to Heather. Mi-Kyong is one of my classmates from Korean school who we've been hanging out with recently. She has lived in China for most of her life and now an avid reader of this blog. In this photo she's explaining a story she just wrote while we were waiting in the room, to Heather who is also fluent in Chinese. Funny stuff.

When the time was right we went out into the cold air and enjoyed the view. The fireworks were launched from the bridge and on a floating pontoon in the water. They could be seen from vantage points all over the city.

Powerful searchlights, lasers and music accompany the show, producing a variety of effects. My favourite parts were the 'smiley-face' fireworks and the biggest one they set-off, right in the middle of the show. The sky went dark and then a single flare climbed high into the sky and exploded. Its diameter was larger than the width of the two highest points of the bridge. Pretty impressive when you consider that the bridge is the longest in Korea and 7.5 kilometres long.

Photographs of fireworks never seem to do them justice. Here's a video I shot of the night. By the time they started, a few other people had found out about our viewing area

We took the subway home which was chaotic. Rivers of people were continuously streaming into the station, but luckily enough we were earlier than most. Even still, at the turnstiles everyone was so jammed in together that it was really difficult for me to put my hand in my jacket pocket to get my transit card.

Because Mi-Kyong is relatively new to Korea, we had her birthday at our place. Jef made her a jug of rather complicated Bloody Mary that had V8 juice, tobasco, celery seed and garlic in it. Sitting in the couch there is also Julayne, who came down from Seoul to see the film festival. Julayne was the captain of the soccer team that I volunteered to be a linesman for back at the IKAA Gathering. Anybody coming down from Seoul is welcome to have a beer at my place, as long as you're relatively nice.

See you soon!

2007년 8월 19일 일요일

2007 IKAA Gathering Part 2

The next gathering is going to be in Vegas in January. Due to the intensive period at work during that time I doubt I'll be able to get time off. But that's not going to stop me trying. Ha.

This is the 3 storey high banner that was attached to the wall of the Sofitel throughout our stay. It looked really pretty, but I always wonder what they do with the material after such an event. I reckon it would be good to cut up and make into t-shirts for everybody.

Here are 5 of the 6 Australians in the lobby of the hotel. Another one, Stephanie, was with us at the beginning but had to leave early. I'm in my typical photo posture as usual.

I'd never actually been to a horse race before so I took the opportunity when it arose. On the last Sunday arrangements were made to head down to the racepark as a group, but most people were tired. Only 6 of us ended up making the trek down to the track but it was a good time.

I know very little about horse racing in general, other than that it's an excuse to flog a helpless animal towards a finish line. But that didn't stop me wagering a bet. I picked the best looking horse, which ended up losing. Then I picked the ugliest looking one and that lost as well. Evidently beauty or a lack thereof is not a factor in racing. After that I went back to the hotel.

Here we are in Club Air, a place that ended up getting so full of adoptees that the locals ended up leaving and we had it to ourselves. I took this photo early on in the night. I guess some people are just very happy to have their photo taken.

A view from the VIP area looking down on the dancefloor. Pretty much everyone you can see is a friend of a friend. The level of adoptee networking promoted by the various organizations has been very successful.

My fellow panelist Robyn, with Dae-won having a good time. I left the place pretty late, and they were still dancing it up.

The closing ceremony was held in the Shilla Hotel, probably the most classy venue in Seoul. We dressed up nicely and were pleasantly surprised by the err... classiness of the place.

We all took our seats and heard speeches. The vice-president of Samsung, Kwang Sup-Han, was eating with us and footed the bill. At our table we took a few guesses at the price and generally agreed that it would run into the high tens of thousands. It was a very impressive setup.

The service was amazing. Wine was unlimited and all the plates were warm at the right time. Most impressively, they had a workforce of about 50 waiters who would stream out quickly and quietly carrying all the dishes at the right time, so nobody was left waiting for their food. Here's one of the waiters that was looking after our table. They came out so quickly they looked like a swarm of bees.

This was the appetizer. It was a seafood salad with wine dressing, but the prawns were some special kind of super tasty prawn that I'd never eaten before. This came after soup and was followed by steak and dessert. Man it was good.

Pia, Steve, Gennai and me. I hadn't worn a tie in so long I'd forgotten how to make the knot.

Some of the old characters from Koroot, the lodging house I stayed in last year. I still can't believe it's been a year already. Then again it seems like ages since I left Australia.

More happy faces. I have no idea when I'll meet up with these people again. Probably at some gathering way in the distant future.

The microphone host for the night was Ahn Jung-hyun, a television personality on Korean TV. She's a managing director of a media firm and hosts a talk show that I watch sometimes. So this was my small brush with fame.

Here's a video of one of the entertainment acts for the night, traditional Korean drummers. There was also other Korean traditional music and a b-boy performance, all of which were top quality.

The entertainment was interactive too, with the audience invited to play small drums that were handed out to everyone. In this photo we're singing 'Arirang' together, a traditional Korean folk song. Photo: Courtesy of Her Royal Loveliness, Pia Claire Meehan.

For the final night in Seoul, we had a club booked out for a while. Club circle is one of the more prominent and upmarket watering holes available. This is their animated LED front door sign, a couple of stories tall.

The interior design was original and aesthetically pleasing. White couches lined the outside, with a lot of mingling areas and televisions everywhere. On the couches were monitors displaying slideshows from other events.

In the middle of Club Circle is the bar area which is a large circle, would you believe. But the coolest thing about it is that the whole outer rim, with tables and all, rotates slowly like a revolving restaurant. So if you sit there, you eventually get to see the whole place from the comfort of your couch.

Later that night Mayda came back and gave us another performance. She's a very friendly and down to earth person. I bought one of her CDs afterwards, but it got lost somewhere in the blurry haze that was the rest of the night.

The drinks were a little bit pricey, as could be expected. We all pitched in at our table and those three bottles of JW set us back a mere KW600,000. But it was the last night, after all. Go hard and go home, as we used to say back in Australia.

The dress code of the event was all white, to match with the decor of the interior. Halfway through the night one of my very good friends in Korea and an organiser of the gathering, Tae-yang, showed up. He was wearing one of the bedsheets from the hotel, wrapped up into a toga. Awesome.

In the photos above are some old friends I caught up with and some friends I have since made. All good people.
The night was a perfect way to wrap up the gathering and I ended up meandering back to my apartment with a glow and a belly full of imported spirits.

The next day I woke up, checked out and took the KTX train back to good ol' Busan. At Seoul station I found a diner selling this hangover soup, which I promptly ordered. It had some sort of brown jelly stuff in it and tasted alright. On the day I arrived back, I had to teach that afternoon and it went pretty well.

Well that was the gathering! If you're adopted and thinking of coming back to Korea, I would highly recommend it. A shout-out to all the people who have. And if you're not adopted and thinking of coming to Korea, I would recommend it anyway.