2009년 9월 16일 수요일

Working life

Working life has been good. We're currently in our fifth week of teaching since our arrival and the weeks have just flown by. There hasn't been as much time to get out and about, but in a way that's a good thing because teaching is less tiring than being a tourist.

This is the view from the back window of my apartment. I like to think that the multiple stairwells give the place a quasi-mediterranean feel. They also remind me of those Escher drawings. The neighbours are pretty quiet, although one old man likes to look at me if I leave my window open in the morning.

Hey look it's the same photo. Actually this one has rain in it. The other week it just poured and poured for about 24 hours. I was in another area later that day and the wind was really strong, blowing everyone's umbrella inside out and rendering them useless. I also saw a 3 metre sign for a net cafe come crashing down and hit someone's car. Then the wind picked it up and sent it hurtling down the street. Later I found out that a small typhoon had brushed past the coast.

This is our subway station during rush hour. We like the area we live in but it's very quiet and mildly uneventful. Except for trucks in the early morning that drive past right outside my window announcing grocery prices through a loudspeaker. I sometimes curse them from under my pillow.

Some BBQ places are much better than others. This one in Seomyeon is a little more expensive but you get these nice little rolled up beef thingies that aren't common elsewhere. That big grey thing there is a live octopus frying itself nicely for us. Actually it was dead, but you can get them alive if it tickles your fancy. My fancy hasn't been tickled yet, but times may change.

Not too far away from us is a Lotte department store. Lotte is a burgeoning corporate behemoth that likes to build apartments, department stores and compartments for things. They also make things that don't rhyme with 'department', but I wanted to showcase my poetic skills. Anyway, out the front they have a big globe of the world. It's nice, but someone stuck the Australia cut-out on backwards. And Tasmania must have fallen off.

Recently we went back to Foxy bar, a large nightclub with hip-hop upstairs and techno downstairs. It's pretty good and has a nice crowd. There's a cigarette stand on the bottom floor, with cutely dressed cigarette-ladies dancing to the music.

Halfway through the night, one of the bartenders started juggling fire bottles. Then he lit up a 6-storey cocktail fountain on the bar for somebody's birthday.

They also have a balcony area which is a good place to chill out. The building on the left is a part of Judie's Taehwa, which is a famous public bath house in the area. Public baths aren't common in western countries and I've been wanting to see one for a while now. Apparently you get naked and strangers will sometimes offer to scrub your back.

After a night out on the town you can still find food places open in the busy areas. Here we are eating samgyetang, a hot ginseng chicken soup that goes down really well when you're feeling a little exhausted.

On another night it was Cheri's birthday. She's a teacher working with our company and I'm glad she came down to Busan because she's always bubbly. Even without alcohol. Next month we're running in a 5 km public marathon. I should really get back into shape.

It seems that a few years ago Korea experienced an episode of golfing obssession. This is the legacy it left behind, entire department store levels dedicated to golf clothing and accessories. I'm not much of a golfer, but I like the scenery of golf courses. Usually when I play I get bored quickly and end up playing hockey with the golf sticks.

In the same store you can buy everything else, from air purifiers to Australian beef and fresh fish. In the mornings before the store opens you get to watch the staff doing choreographed stretching exercises. At Home Plus they do it at midday too. But back in Seoul I went to some place that had staff on rollerblades who did a choreographed dance in the aisles for the shoppers.

I'm eating out a lot these days, mainly because food is cheap and tasty. It's a bit of a hassle buying groceries because it's only me in the flat and perishables tend to do the obvious. I am also becoming of the opinion that cooking for one is a little depressing. On the other hand, a meal like this will cost you about five bucks with unlimited side dishes.

Recently I made a Korean friend, called Mi-Yeong. She doesn't speak any English, so when we hang out it's a good way to learn each other's language. By combining my flimsy Korean with hand gestures and hieroglyphics, I am usually able to communicate simple ideas. That book in her hand is my Lonely Planet guide to Conversational Korean, pocket edition. I took this photo with my outstretched hand, which is why it's a bit blurry.

When I walk home at night it's always through little side alleys like this one, which are all over the place in residential areas. They weave around the backs of houses and apartment blocks, with the odd stray cat or dog in them. I like the atmosphere in our area because it's really quiet and due to their wobbly nature I imagine that the alleys are probably remnants of older walkways that have been around for generations.

Teaching has been pretty much how I expected it to be. I like teaching and the classes are a decent size so it's been enjoyable so far. This is a part of my tangential lecture on global geography and the extent of Genghis Khan's conquests. I drew that map from memory... pretty good eh?

This is my favourite class, called English Chip 3 during break time. Some of the classes can get a bit sleepy, but in general the students work hard. These students are elementary schoolers and I teach middle school kids as well.

The lessons go for three hours straight with a five minute break on the hour. During the break I let them draw on the board when they've been good. They often like to draw little pictures of poo, or comics referring to me. Sometimes a mixture of both.

What a bunch of little angels. They like to tell me their interesting observations from time to time, like when I have a new pimple on my face or how my voice is too deep for my age. On top of all their normal schoolwork, most of them attend private tuition in their spare time.

The other day I ate naengmyeon, ice-cold noodle soup that is great in warm weather. The noodles are usually made of buckwheat and are black. One of my friends told me that the one I ordered on this day is the Pyongyang variety. Pyongyang is the capital of North Korea and is one of the most isolated countries in the world.

These are the markets of Seomyeon during the daytime. There are a lot of small food stalls and various curiousities to peruse. It reminds me of the Chinatown markets in Malaysia.

And at night Seomyeon reminds me of Sinchon back in Seoul. The people here speak a different dialect of Korean, which I think I'm eventually going to pick up after I live here a while.

Thus far, living in Busan has been as good as I had hoped and teaching is enjoyable. The lesson plans are very structured, but I still have a little freedom to go off on a tangent when I feel like rambling. My next focus is going to be on learning Korean, which could be interesting because I'm a little lazy when it comes to languages. Oh well, I guess we'll see how it goes. Cya!

2009년 9월 13일 일요일

Settling down in Busan

We returned to Haeundae beach on a Sunday to get a better look at the place. It's a very scenic area with islands on the far side and various nearby markets, walking trails and coffee shops.

Jet skis are allowed to roam freely anywhere, even right onto the beach to pick people up. They weave in and out of swimmer traffic, kind of like the scooters in the markets here.

There was a large art sculpture of a baby in the sand. The people in the photo were mixing paint.

In the market stalls nearby there are all sorts of culinary curiousities available for purchase. While live octopus and eels are becoming quite familiar to us, these large albino snails were a surprise. I'm not sure whether you're supposed to eat them alive or not, but they're about the size of apricots.

This is from our first proper meet-up with staff from the other branches in Busan. We like to call our area 'The Ghetto', because it doesn't have any of the attractions that the other branches have. Our area is close to the centre of the city but there's only a block of flats and a large freeway for amusement, because we're situated in a mountain pass. But our branch is still the coolest, naturally.

One night we went out to dinner with the admin staff at our school. This is John and Ji-Hae clapping along to karaoke later that night. Karaoke bars are really popular here, you can find them on just about every residential block. In some areas you can find more than five within a one minute walk.

We found a bar called The Vinyl Underground, which was nice and a bit more spaced out than the places in Seoul. The bars in Busan aren't as crowded, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective.

Food in Busan is pretty cheap and the service is a little warmer if you eat back at the same places. You can get ramyeon noodles for about AUD$1.50 and this meal cost us about 4 dollars each. They always give you more than you can eat, with free side dish refills. I found a similar place closeby that has a menu with the most expensive dish on it costing $2.50.

On our recent day off we ate fish soup with John and Skippa, both admin staff at our company. Then Skippa (in the green) decided to take us to his hometown of Changwon which is about an hour drive away. The journey was through the mountains and we passed a few long tunnels.

He took us to a Buddhist temple complex close to the city which was well kept and very quiet. The mountains were all around and we drank water from a freely running spring. The water was quite tasty.

This is a big bell they have. On the description the English translation states that "it is a Buddhist bell of poor craftsmanship'.

Large carp were swimming in a nearby pond. Carp are native here, but are feral animals back in Australia. Near the middle of the pond is a stone bucket that you try and throw money into. I managed to land 2 out of 5 coins in it, because when I was young I was good at marbles.

The temples were very clean and had a peaceful atmosphere. Gold Buddha statues were in most of them, with various depictions of mythical events painted on the walls. A couple of monks were doing various duties around the place. Temples like these often have 'temple-stay' programs where you can come and live like a monk for the weekend, leaving your city troubles behind. I wouldn't mind giving it a go one day.

The ceilings were decorated with intricate designs and hanging lanterns. You can also buy a tile and write a chalk inscription on it. Then the monks put it on the roof when one needs replacing.

Here's Jef, me and Skippa absorbing some temple atmosphere. Skippa doesn't speak much English, but he used to be a professional singer and can sing Italian opera songs in a tenor voice without a microphone. I reckon it would sound pretty good coming out of the temples.

Then we went to Jinhae, a nearby harbour city. It was a really nice place and the harbour was huge, with clean water and islands. A whole bunch of people were fishing from different places, with some families bringing portable stoves to cook things in.

These two guys were using starfish as bait and had a whole pot of mussels cooked up behind them. They gave some to us and they tasted really fresh. We're planning to come back here someday and go fishing. What a nice way to spend a day off.

2009년 9월 11일 금요일

Sightseeing in Gangnam

I moved to Busan to start working last Saturday, which has been going well, but this blog post is about the in-between time I spent before I came down south. Next post I'll update you on what it's been like in the new city.

So this is Thomas sporting the latest hair-fashion craze here in Korea. It's not entirely practical but is great for conversation. Thomas invented it all by himself.

When I first came to Korea, I caught a taxi from the bus depot to my first hotel. My first impression was that taxi drivers here are lunatics, but I remained calm and composed as we weaved in an out of traffic on a six lane highway during rush hour. My updated opinion is that taxi drivers here are talented lunatics who really know how to drive. Often they'll come within centimetres of other cars at rediculous speeds. This photo shows a typical ride back home, doing speeds in excess of 120km/hr in a 60km/hr zone.

The Gangnam area of Seoul is a commercial district with a lot of interesting architecture. I heard that many of the architects were from western countries but strived to include asian influences in their works. The results are appreciable and distinct. This is the Dongbu Financial Centre right outside our hotel.

And this is the Seoul World Trade Centre building just down the street. There's a really good view at the top and a couple of nice restaurants.

The COEX mall is a giant shopping area that's similar to Westfield in Australia but appropriately proportioned for Korean consumerism. In this mall you can see movies, go to a huge aquarium (which I'll show you in detail soon) and there's even a casino attached. Koreans seem to have an ongoing obsession with handphones and electronic gadgets. That huge mobile display with a working television is a good example. On the right you can see Jackie Chan's restaurant, which we ate at. The food was surprisingly good.

This is the entrance to the casino, which is exclusive to foreigners. Only people with an overseas passport are allowed to gamble here. The place isn't busy at all and it seems that someone overestimated the market.

Here are my casino buddies, Jef and Amanda, enjoying the free massage chairs provided. The chairs can get pretty rough if you put them on the right setting. When I say rough, I mean rough enough to have you worried about leg amputation.

Here we are the next day at Namsan Tower. If the tower is 353 metres tall, why do we look so big in this photo? Well, Jef took this shot by lying on the ground and we stood next to him. This is now our patented method of photographical ingenuity.

I guess the last photo was a little more impressive than this one. The day we went to the tower, it was really smoggy so we couldn't see much of the city at all. Better luck next time.

On the observation deck they have distance readings for major cities in every direction. This is us at the south facing window, only 8300 km from Canberra.

Another example of our photographical creativity. Ok, so this is us looking up at a large but narrow mirror on the ceiling of the observation deck and me snapping it with my camera. Cool ha?

Now we're back at the COEX mall. There are a whole bunch of stores that sell everything from self-assembling robotic caravans to toilet seats that teach you how to speak Korean. Well I don't know if those things actually exist, but if they did, you could probably buy them here.

Back when I was a little boy I remember the first thing that I ever wanted to be was a marine biologist. Or maybe it was a racing car driver. Or an astronaut. Anyway, I can remember wanting to be a marine biologist for a long time. That somehow equated to me convincing Jef and Amanda to visit the COEX aquarium all these years later when we were in the mall. It was expensive to get in, but really impressive. I recommend everyone should visit this place. In this photo you can see Nemos, clownfish that usually live in sea anemones.

The good thing about the place is that the fish are huge and get really close to the glass and just sit there staring at you. They've probably been camera trained.

This is in the freshwater display section. At the surface of the water on the middle right you can see a fishes body. Actually, those two bubbles in the middle of the pond, not the ones next to the glass, are the eyes of the fish. It's called an Archer fish and sits like a crocodile in the water. When it sees an insect, it shoots a pellet of water at it and the insect falls into the water. It's a fun way to get a meal, but I still prefer a noodle shack.

Amazonian piranhas. These fish go pretty crazy when they smell blood and can strip a whole cow in a few minutes. Definitely not the kind of fish you want to kiss and throw back. What I find interesting is that most fish face the same direction when they cluster together, but piranhas all face outwards, due to their predatory behaviour.

This is a live electric eel. The head diameter is about ten centimetres across. These creatures zap the water with electricity and eat whatever floats to the surface.

A very large catfish I nicknamed Senor Catfish, due to his moustache-like feelers.

A regular scuba diver on display.

The shark display was huge and the sharks were swimming so fast it was hard to get a good shot of them. There were also schools of large fish in the same pond, but they seemed to be getting along with each other. Much to my disappointment.

Here is a large porcupine fish next to the glass. These fish swell up really quickly into a spikey basketball sized sphere when they get startled. This one was just sitting in perfect suspension up next to the glass. We tried to startle it in various ways, including pulling obnoxious faces next to the glass, but he was just too cool for school that day.

A leafy sea dragon. These are an endangered species and live around the waters in South Australia. I remember seeing a documentary on them once. They look like floating weeds and the males get pregnant.

I heard that back in medieval times, bad slaves would get fed to the Moray Eels. Now I can appreciate how undesirable that would have been.

Here's a further back view of the shark display. The window was so wide that I couldn't take a photo of the whole thing.

This is a sawshark. These odd little fellows lie on the bottom of the sea floor and chop up crustaceans and other morsels with their saw-toothed nose. They do this by thrashing their heads from side to side. If I believed in god, I'd say that god is a pretty trippy guy who likes making weird animals.

These are spider crabs that walk around in an insect-like way. Actually, all of today's insects descended from a common ancestor to crustaceans. Your biology lecture is now over.

The grand finale of the aquarium is a transparent hallway that you walk through with all kinds of things swimming around, including this green sea turtle that was swimming overhead.

Mmm, looking at all that seafood made me hungry. Luckily there's an appropriately named seafood tucker shop at hand.

Well that's all for this post! To celebrate, here is a photo of a birthday beer for an American adoptee whose name I forgot. This bar had little drink coolers built under the table that keep your beer cold. Anyway I'll post again when I have time and show you around Busan. It's a nice city. See you then!