2007년 7월 15일 일요일

2007 IKAA Gathering Part 1

From July 31st until August 5th, the 2007 International Korean Adoptee Associations Gathering was held in Seoul. My humble one-week-of-vacation per year was spent attending it. It was a week well spent.

Without flooding you with a tide of information, a whole bunch of Korean adoptees have been continuously leaving Korea in the thousands for the past few decades. A lot of them are growing up to around my age right now, and deciding to return to learn about their history. The result has been the formation of large adoptee-networks across the world, a unique multi-cultural demographic with its own identity. The IKAA Gathering this year was the first of its type, a gathering organised by adoptees inviting others to return, celebrate and ponder what it means to be adopted.

Tim Holm, the president of IKAA and the organising committee started planning the event way back in 2005. The result was very impressive. Sponsored by large Korean companies, banks and the government, the gathering brought together more than 550 adoptees who live in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, Korea, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the USA and the UK. There were 700 attendees in total, as many older adoptees brought partners and children along. This photo is from the opening ceremony.

The food was always excellent. This was my first plate from the buffet lunch, which became standard fare throughout the week. I generally spent the week eating lots, drinking lots and talking to lots of people as well as meeting old friends.

And this is what makes adoptee meet-ups all such surreal yet fascinating experiences. On the left of the photo are Matthias and Maria who I used to live with in Seoul last year, before I came to Busan. On the right is Stephen, who I met in Seoul in 2005 while on a government sponsored cultural program. Although we're all born in Korea, Matthias is from Sweden, Maria from Denmark, me from Australia and Steve from the US. It was really nice to see them again.

In comparison to the US, which has over 100,000 Korean adoptees, Australia has relatively few. So it was nice to see some other Aussies in the crowd. There were a total of 6 at the gathering, of which only 3 others found their way to the photo shoot. I was actually standing by myself for a while before Pia, Gennai and Seon waltzed up.

And, Aussies being Aussies, we got along like a house on fire. On the bus we were talking about Australian stuff.

Running alongside the social events were daily workshops and the first ever International Symposium on Adoption Studies. These were all held at Dongguk University nearby. I was on the panel for a workshop about living in Korea, where I added my humble insights on living in Busan. There are a few hundred adoptees living in Korea, but only 3 that I know of who live down south. The workshop went really well and people laughed at my humour, thankfully.

The Chontae Order of Buddhism invited us to their temple for dinner. It was an impressive building with some nice artworks around the place. Their traditional temple sits on the sixth floor rooftop.

I wish I had a better photo of this lady. She was our guide for the event and was always very calm, composed and charismatic. This was despite the hundreds of adoptees crowding around her, photographing everything and speaking in a handful of different languages.

Here's the temple at the top. I like visiting them, but am still unsure of what to do after about 30 minutes of looking at the intricate patterns everywhere.

The altar had some golden statues, to which we were asked to do a special bow three times. It was interesting but I hurt my knees.

And then they gave us lots of good food, including lots of Korean dishes. I wouldn't have minded a vegetarian meal, but evidently these were not vegetarian buddhists.
Not that I have any particular opinion one way or the other.

After dinner was a performance. First these cute little kids did a 'harvest-offering' dance for us. The tiny little one at the back, who was probably about 5 years old, didn't quite have the synchrony spot-on which made it all the more entertaining to watch.

Then we were serenaded by a choir.

After which we watched these ladies do a chrysanthemum-themed dance. The white lady in the middle was the lead dancer and she fell over in the middle of it. Not a small fall either, she virtually face-planted after a quick spin. I was more impressed with how quickly she jumped up and continued with a smile, than I was with the rest of the dance.

Later on in the week we had an Adoptee World Cup, where teams representing their respective countries competed for the trophy. A lot of teams trained really hard for it, but at the end of the day, the last two teams standing were the two American teams. That was a surprise to many. I volunteered as a linesperson for seven of the matches.

The adoptees who now live in Korea formed a team for the coincidentally named GOA'L organisation. Real Samgyupsal was our name, which comes from 'Re-al', as in Real Madrid and samygyeopsal, which is Korean pork barbecue.

Here are the Danish cheer squad, who periodically chanted their slogan "Go Denmark Go. You - are - the - best". I'm sure I could have come up with something much more catchy, but no one asked me.

And here's poor old Stefano from the GOA'L team after making it to the semi-finals. He's one of two Italian adoptees I've met in Korea.

Mayda Miller is a rockstar adoptee from Minnesota. She played a concert for us with her band after the tournament. I'm a techno freak myself, but it was really good original music.

Most of us stayed at the Sofitel near Dongguk University, which was a very nice place. Because it was my only full week off for the year I decided to try room service for the first time. While it was a little flashier than my usual kimbap breakfast, it was equally as overpriced. Also, I found it a slightly intrusive yet bemusing experience to have a complete stranger wheel a tray into my room while in pyjamas. I guess I'm territorial by nature.

And who needs room service when there's such great catering downstairs? Being an ex-cook myself, I can only imagine the logistical nightmares involved in catering for 700 people with completely different preferences. They did a really good job.

We hit the neighbourhood bars early in the week. It's always a funny thing when 200 Korean-looking people in a bar hang out and speak everything but Korean.

Well that was about half the week. Part II coming soon!

2007년 7월 10일 화요일

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.