Annyong
Life in South Korea

Mar
16

 Edit:  Turns out it’s actually pronounced Hwangsa, not Hangsu.

Spring has arrived here in Korea (yeah, in March.  Suck it Canada), which means one thing to Koreans.  Hwangsa attacks.  Hwangsa or ‘Yellow Dust’ is dust picked up off the deserts in China and Mongolia and carried east towards the Koreas and Japan, bringing with it all the best toxic air-pollutants China has to offer.  Read more about this phenomenon here.

 

 

Yellow Dust in action (I did not take this picture)

Yellow Dust in action (I did not take this picture)

 

Today was the first Yellow Dust day of the season.  Very exciting.  It’s hard for me to gauge exactly how bad the effects are because I’m sick at the moment, but I can say this:  all day today my mouth was dry and parched, and not because of my cold.  My mouth literally felt dusty all day.  It’s not a nice feeling.  But it’s part of the springtime here, and apparently it’s not every day so you just deal with it.  Or you get one of those Asian masks, which I obviously refuse to do.

 

 

 

In less deadly news, my new schedule at my school is ridiculously busy, which kinda sucks.  Last semester I only had to teach 3rd – 6th grade.  Now they’ve got me teaching the same amount of 3rd -6th grade, plus I’m teaching 1st and 2nd grade, as well as kindergarten 4 times a week.  Monday and Tuesday I have 5 classes in a row before lunch.  It’s pretty brutal.   But on the plus side, they’ve built a new English Room which is awesome.  It’s got a touch tensing 60 inch plasma, white boards, projectors, a Reading Area (with kick-ass English books like Goodnight Moon and Brown Bear, Brown Bear what do you see?), it’s pretty cool.  I also picked up another private lesson this week so that’s a bit more money coming in which is always nice.

 

Finally, this is pretty much the greatest time for sports back home, which sucks for me.  My March Madness will involve trying to watch crappy live streams of games on my even crappier laptop.  At least I’m not around to witness first hand how bad the Raptors are and the Jays will be.  Also how does Canada get knocked out of the World Baseball Classic by Italy????  I leave for 6 months and the whole operation is in shambles…..

Feb
27
A mother shielding her child from the blast

A mother shielding her child from the blast

Sorry it’s been 2 weeks since i last posted.  I’ve been on vacation here (more on that later) for this whole month and it’s made me even lazier than normal.  It took Jo yelling at me to motivate me to post this.  Anyway, here’s the final part of our Japan trip – Hiroshima.  We were only there for 1 night so we had to pack a lot into a very short time.  Hiroshima is a beautiful city (very modern, obviously), and if I had to live in one of the cities we visited it we be Hiroshima no question. 

The peace museum from the park

The peace museum from the park

The tourist stuff is focused around Peace Park and the A-bomb museums/memorials, so we did all that stuff as soon as we got there.  It’s a pretty amazing experience being there and reading about all the damage and casualties etc of that day in 1945;  it’s very depressing, but valuable.  The museum is excellent and all the memorials are very nice.  I would definitely recommend Hiroshima to anybody thinking about Japan because it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. 

The monument to the child victims

The monument to the child victims

 

The Peace Bell (you are encouraged to ring it)

The Peace Bell (you are encouraged to ring it)

Thousands of paper cranes surround the Children's Monument and nearby statues

Thousands of paper cranes surround the Children's Monument and nearby statues

The story of the paper cranes is pretty inspirational.   Take 3 minutes and read about it here.

Apart from the Peace Park, the other main draw in the city is the castle, which is pretty impressive (moat and all).

I don't know why but this reminds me of Captain Morgan

I don't know why but this reminds me of Captain Morgan

That's the castle in the background in case you didn't put 2 and 2 together

That's the castle in the background in case you didn't put 2 and 2 together

And of course, Hiroshima is the home of the greatest team ever in the Japanese Baseball League – the Hiroshima Carp!

Go Carp! (even on the sewer-grates)

Go Carp! (even on the sewer-grates)

 

So, that was our trip.  The next day we were in Fukuoka to take the super-high speed ferry back to Korea.  1o days and almost 2 grand later after we got there, we were on our way home.  …Well, I was.  Joanna was on her way to visit me in Korea, but you get the idea.  Cheers.

Feb
13
a-bamboo-forest

Kyoto was a really cool change of pace from Tokyo.  While it still feels like a big city, the atmosphere there is much more laid back, with more emphasis on  tradtional Japanese  culture than in Tokyo.   We had 4 days here, so we got a good helping of temples, palaces and monkeys (yeah, monkeys).  Also, Joanna was DETERMINED to  stalk a geisha while in Kyoto.  Check out some of the hilights….

The old imperial palace was great, and inside was even more impressive

the old imperial palace was great, and inside is even more impressive

  

The Golden Temple (3 guesses why)

The Golden Temple (3 guesses why)

 

Western Kyoto's Arashiyama neighbourhood is all traditional stuff like this

Western Kyoto's Arashiyama neighbourhood is all traditional stuff like this

...except for the monkeys

...except for the monkeys

they even let you feed the monkeys

they even let you feed the monkeys

 

some monkeys are friendlier than others

some monkeys are friendlier than others

Jo finally found her Geishas.   ...And proceeded to follow them around for 10 minutes.

Jo finally found her Geishas. ...And proceeded to follow them around for 10 minutes.

Our hostel was owned by the coolest hippies of all time.  They played us a mini-concert before we left (the dude rocked out on guitar) and wrote our names in Japnese calligrapy.  My name means "Most relaxing dragon."  Badass right?

Our hostel was owned by the coolest hippies of all time. They played us a mini-concert before we left (the dude rocked out on guitar) and wrote our names in Japnese calligrapy. My name means "Most relaxing dragon." Badass right?

 

Anyway, Kyoto was really cool and we did a ton of walking there.  That only left 1 night in Hiroshima before the end of our trip.

Feb
12

a-me-and-fuji

We only had 1 night in Kawaguchiko  (town at the base of Mt. Fuji), basically we planned on making a stop in between Tokyo and Kyoto, seeing the mountain, then moving on.   As it turns out, to get to Kyoto from Mt. Fuji you have to go back to Tokyo to get the right train, so that plan didn’t work out too well.  But the few hours backtracking was worth seeing Mt. Fuji.   It’s pretty impressive.  Not the biggest mountain, but seeing as it’s all by itself it pretty much dominates the landscape.  Before anyone asks, no, we didn’t climb it (you can only do that in July and August).  

a-j-and-dock

The surrounding area is really nice and a welcome break from Tokyo’s chaos.  We did a little bit of hiking, but it would have been nice to be able to do more.  As it turns out, Mt. Fuji is hidden by clouds most of the time, so we got pretty lucky that it was fully visible the day that we got there.   As you can probably tell from the picture above, the area near Mt. Fuji is really scenic and peaceful (although probably less so in the peak months), and it was a great break between two busy cities.  One day here got us relaxed and ready for Kyoto.

Enter the.....nevermind, too easy.

Enter the.....nevermind, too easy.

Feb
02

I’m back from my 10 days in Japan with Joanna and it was a great trip.  It was great just to get away from children for 10 days and have a vacation, but Japan itself was pretty amazing.  It’s very different from Korea (cleaner, more efficient, and much, much more expensive).  Seeing Jo was great too, since it’s tough being away from the family for so long.  Since I have a lot to say about Japan, and Jo had a new camera so she took about 6 million pictures, I figured it’d be better to break up the details  about the trip/pictures  into 4 sections – 1 for each city we visited (Tokyo, Kawaguchiko [Mt. Fuji], Kyoto and Hiroshima).   This way I can write a little each day instead of piling it on at once. 

So I’ll start off with our first stop and the biggest city in the world:  Tokyo.

the city is massive and most of it glows in the dark

the city is massive and most of it glows in the dark

 

I should start by saying that the sheer size of Tokyo blew me away.  There’s something like 35 million people in Tokyo, and it feels like it.  If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Tokyo is the city that never stops.   We walked for hours and were always surrounded by high-rise office buildings, crowded restaurants and arcades.    Tokyo is divided into major neighbourhoods, each of which has a slightly different feel to it, but these areas flow into each other seamlessly.   The best way I can describe Tokyo is that it’s a city with about 7 ‘downtowns’  and at least 3 or 4 ‘times squares.’   You are always surrounded by people, and in that way the city is a little claustrophobic (not surprisingly) and hectic.  And all of these people are dressed in business-suits or like they’re going to a club, at all times.  There’s a lot of beautiful people in Tokyo (Japanese girls put Koreans to shame unfortunately).

diagonalcrosswalk

diagonal crosswalks are a necessity in Tokyo

  We hit all of the major neighbourhoods and some minor ones in our 4 days there, and we saw almost all of the city.  Here were some of the hilights:

1)  The imperial palace grounds:  Even though they don’t let you see the palace itself, the grounds and gardens are pretty impressive.

img_03741

Old guards on bikes...

and bamboo gardens.

and bamboo gardens.

2) Wandering the streets and seeing things like this:
meironman2
joweirdcatthing2
metransformer1
3) The Tsukiji Fish Market.  There is no way to describe this and pictures don’t really do it justice.  This is the largest fish market in the world and is made up of endless rows of stalls selling absolutely everything you could possibly find under the ocean,  auctions for huge tuna, and guys carving live fish in every possible way.  This was awesome.  The only catch was, you need to go at around 5:30 am because thats when all the action goes down.  So we did…twice actually (it was closed the first time we dragged ourselves down there.  yeah.  it hurt).
Some of these fish were bigger than me

Some of these fish were bigger than me

these guys were using samurai swords to filet

these guys were using samurai swords to filet

4) You can’t go to the world’s biggest fish market without having a breakfast of the world’s freshest sushi.
fresh sushi tastes different.  ...and better.

fresh sushi tastes different. ...and better.

Jo wouldn't try anything beyond a cucumber roll (which was too spicy for her)

Jo wouldn't try anything beyond a cucumber roll (which was too spicy for her)

 

5)  Shinto/Buddhist gardens, shrines and temples are not as common in Tokyo as in other cities, but the ones they do have are impressive.

meshinto

mepillars

img_0643

 

Tokyo was definitely an interesting experience.  It was by far the most modern/hectic city I’ve ever seen.   We did a ton of walking and crowd-weaving here and by the end of our 4 days we were pretty tired and ready to get out of non-stop city (it takes about 1 hour on the train to actually break out of the city’s borders) and head to Mt. Fuji and make with the ‘zen.’  More on that soon….  -A.

Jan
11

I’ve been at Woosuk University English Camp for the last 2 weeks, teaching, eating and living in the dorms with the kids, which is why I haven’t had any time to update anything on here.  I’ve got some Computer Lab time today (with the kids of course), so I thought I’d just post a quick update.

English camp is pretty good.  The days are long (I stand in front of a class for about 8 hours a day), but I got a great group of kids so that helps a lot.  I got the top 5th and 6th graders and they’re all great kids and they speak pretty good English, so my job is not as tough as it could be.  One big plus about this camp is that I am saving a ton of money.  Since all my meals are paid for, and I’m in the dorms/on campus all the time,  I’m basically pocketing my entire paycheck from this month; which is nice.  …It’s also necessary since I’ve realized my trip to Japan is going to cost me a fortune!  Stupid Japan and their strong economy. 

I’ll be meeting Joanna there on Jan. 19th and I’ll be there for about 10 days.  I’m super excited!  We’re going to go to Tokyo, Kyoto/Osaka and Hiroshima.  I’ll make sure to take lots of pictures etc., and report back on Japan.  Also I’ll try to post some pics from English Camp when I finish on the 18th.  I hope everyone is having a good 2009.    Cheers.

Dec
28

Merry Christmas!

  

Missing the Miller Family Christmas

Missing the Miller Family Christmas

 

 

Merry Christmas everybody (and happy Chanukah where applicable)!  I hope everybody is having a good holiday season and not letting the economy screw them out of having a merry Christmas. 

 

Christmas is celebrated here, but it’s not nearly as big of a deal as back home.  Kids might get 1 or 2 modest presents, not like the dozens some kids seem to get in North America. 

 

There are some Christmas decorations, but they are usually limited to the big department stores.  Nobody puts lights up outside their apartment.  So it’s Christmas time here, but it doesn’t really feel like Christmas Time here.  Also there hasn’t really been snow for a few weeks, so that doesn’t help.  I heard Canada got hit pretty hard with snow in the last week or so.  Enjoy your white Christmas.  And your shoveling!

 

 

 

...and Molly

...and Molly

Winter English Camp starts today, where I spend 3 weeks in University dorms with the kids (yeah, 3 weeks straight.  Ouch).  But then I’m off to Japan for 10 days with Jo, which I’m super excited about!  I’ll try to check in from camp. 

 

 

 

Dec
23

All I want for Christmas is to not get run over.

 

 

One of the biggest differences between Canada and Korea is the driving atmosphere.  Let me start by saying I’ve almost been hit by about 5 different buses in my short time here.  It’s not because I’ve been doing anything dangerous (unless “crossing the street on a green light” is considered dangerous), it’s that bus drivers don’t give a ****.  There is a bus-station 5 minutes from my house (which is super convenient, when you’re not dodging them), and they all use the same little side-street to get out of the bus station.  The first time I crossed the side-street, I was not expecting a bus to be flying out of it.  I almost died.  Now granted I probably should have looked more carefully, but I had no idea that the bus station was there, and who really expects buses to be travelling down residential back alleys going 50 km/h?  Not me.  Also, this was at 7:00am, so my reaction time wasn’t where it usually is.  That might also account for me doing the exact same thing the next day. 

 

But it’s not just me being stupid and not looking where I’m going.  Koreans drive dangerously.  Sidewalks are a perfect example of this.  In Canada, sidewalks are for pedestrians.  They’re called side-WALKS for a reason.  In Korea, they’re for whoever feels like using them.  Here cars rest on sidewalks, park on sidewalks, hell I’ve even seen cars pass on sidewalks.  The first time you see a car mount the curb and start bearing down on you, let me tell you, you freak out a little bit.  

 

But that’s nothing compared to the motorcycles.  Motorcycles use sidewalks almost exclusively.  You know how in Canada you’re not even supposed to ride your bicycle on the sidewalk?  Here not only do bicycles have free reign, but motorcycles are flying all over place too.  It’s ridiculous.  Restaurants use motorcycles to deliver food.  I once saw one of these delivery guys fire up a siren and drive diagonally through an intersection.  And the crazy thing is, everybody stopped for him!  What kind of country gives guys delivering fried chicken the same kind of powers as an ambulance??

 

This brings me to red lights.  Koreans don’t stop for red lights.  O.K., that’s not fair.  Some Koreans don’t stop for red lights some of the time, especially when you get outside of busy cities.  Sometimes people will pause at a red light, seemingly considering their options, and then slowly roll through it.  Other times people will just pretend it’s green and shoot right through.  But my all-time favourite is the drivers who will get to a red light, turn right slightly and use the pedestrian cross-walk to get to the other side.  Like “no, no officer, I didn’t go through the intersection, I went around it.”  …Of course the cops don’t seem to care about any of this. 

 

After watching a bunch of cars run a red during my first week here, I asked a Korean I’ve befriended, “what are they doing!? Is that allowed?”  She considered the question for a minute and then said “well, they are probably in a hurry.”  In a hurry!  Unreal. 

Dec
10

Andrew Teaches Kindergarten.  Hilarity Ensues.

Teaching kindergarten is interesting to say the least. Here’s a conversation I had with a kid in kindergarten yesterday:

Kid:  Hi!

Me: Hello.

Kid: Thank you!!

Me:  Thank you??

Kid:  How are you??

Me: I’m fine.  How are you?

Kid: Thank you!

Me:  Thank you?

Kid:  How are you?

Me: Goodbye.

Kid: Thank you!

Me: Thank you.

Kid: Hello! (as I leave the room)

Don’t get me wrong, these kids are really sweet.  Even though this kid obviously knows 3 expressions and has no idea what they mean, you gotta give him an A for effort.   I am currently teaching my kindergarteners  “Old MacDonald had a farm,”  and I have come to the shocking discovery that Koreans don’t have the same “farm animal noises” as we do.  Their cows don’t “moo,” their pinks definitely don’t “oink” and their dogs sound like chickens.   It’s bizarre.  I always thought “the pig goes ‘oink’ ” was universal.   Live and learn.

 

“Take a sad song, and make it better….”

Today was Festival Day at our school.  All the classes did different stuff on stage, like drumming and Tae Kwon Do and Yoga.  I’ve been working with the 5th graders on singing Hey Jude by the Beatles and Santa Claus is Coming to Town and let me just say, they nailed it!  I felt like a proud dad watching them rock out up there.  I tried to get them to do Hey Jude and More than a Feeling by Boston (5th grade Korean kids on air guitar, are you kidding me?), but that got vetoed unfortunately.

This festival was a pretty big deal.  The  mayor was there,  EVERY principal from the city was there.  Even the provincial “chief” was there.  I wore a suit and a nametag and helped serve coffee and tea for 3 hours.  I now have a newfound appreciation for what flight attendants go through.

Dec
06

I have big posts planned on stuff like Korean food, Nori Bong (karaoke) and driving.  But I haven’t had the energy yet to undertake any of them.  So instead I’ll just put up and update on some stuff that’s  going on here. 

With apologies to Buddhists everywhere...

With apologies to Buddhists everywhere...

It snowed here again yesterday and Koreans everywhere freaked out.   In Jeonju we got about 3 cm yesterday (maybe), most of it at night.  You should have seen the way the city shut down.  I was out on the streets walking during the snow “storm” and it was pretty funny.   As I was walking to the big department store here (a failed Walmart now called E-mart)  traffic was grid-locked and I heard sirens and honking literally non-stop for 15 minutes.   Walking home from the E-mart an hour later people had just given up.   The roads were clear, because people had just pulled over to the sides of the road and stopped driving like Moses was behind them in a Hyundai.   You definitely would not have guessed this was a country that sees snow on a semi-regular basis.   

 

Teaching is going well.   I found out two days ago that starting this week I will be teaching Kindergarten 3 times a week.  This is a little unusual considering 1) I don’t even teach  1st or 2nd grade.  And 2) There are only 2 weeks left in the year.  Apparently the school wants to convince parents to keep the kindergarten program and the best idea they’ve come up with is to showcase their white guy. 

Ordinarily this would be fine with me, except that these kids are a little crazy.  We all know that there are two very different ways Kindergarten kids can act.  They can either be the kids from Kindergarten Cop (ie they are obedient and respond well to ferrets), or they can be the kids from Recess (ie little savages who attack anything that moves).  These kids definitely fall into group B.    Walking through their hallway is the most dangerous part of my day.

 

I’m starting to plan my trip to Japan with my sister in January, so if anybody has been to Japan, please drop me a line with some suggestions.   We’ll have about 10 days there.    Christmas is rapidly approaching and that will be hardest time to be away from home.  So I am really looking forward to seeing my sister and seeing Japan!  Also, I will hopefully be going to Seoul for a few days over Christmas with Carson, which should be awesome!

So that’s it for now, I hope everyone is having a good December.  And to everyone in school right now dealing with exams and papers – hahahahahaha.  Oh and Good Luck.    Cheers.

-A.