Thursday, August 21, 2008

Working an "English Village" for our school was an interesting experience. For one night and two days we were essentially camp counselors, wholly responsible for about 10 Korean children. Anderson's boys were from the Dongnae COREM, while Liz's girls primarily came from the Haeundae school. The EV was held outside Yangsan, which is Busan's only suburb, so were about 20 minutes northwest of Busan out in the hills at a youth hostel. The rooms were nice enough, the food (all Korean of course) was actually much better than one might imagine cafeteria food for children to be, and the swimming pool - which was a Saturday afternoon activity - was quite wonderful.
Each team had a weather-based name (Anderson = Storm, Liz = Tornado) which we created a flag for, and in addition to team-building games like relay races and such, there were a plethora of other well-planned activities. Highlights included a short "hike" around the grounds with competitive activity stations set up, a King of Quiz event (that was a bit boring at times but still fun enough), a dress your counselor up night-time event (Anderson = rock star, Liz = princess, although her students decided she should be an evil one, which she definitely was!), and the previously mentioned swimming, which was very fun as it was basically 2 hours of throwing children in the water!
Being an English camp the children were highly discouraged from speaking Korean, so we had stickers to reward them for not doing so, as well as for when the won games, etc. On Saturday morning we had a COREM Town, with stations (Hotel, Hospital, Pharmacy, Post Office, Immigration Office, Bank) where they had to practice English conversation - albeit with a script. They then got COREM Money for completing each station, which they could then use to buy food, snacks, and stationary supplies at the COREM Store. So all the kids got piles of stuff, but the best part was the teachers did as well!
We also had time with the kids in our rooms, where we just talked or played silly word games, or whatever filler was necessary until the next planned event. While the two days were very exhausting, they were certainly enjoyable and we got to know our kids quite well in a short amount of time. Not something we'd want to do every weekend, but given that is was a one-time event we were glad that we'd, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to volunteer our (paid) services :-).

Since then another "typical" week has flown by, Anderson has to go to school early tomorrow to do the kindergartner's monthly birthday party, which entails acting goofy for half-an-hour and passing out candy to those kids that can remember their "sight words." Challenging stuff, indeed! Currently it is summer intensives (public school is out of session so our academy offers a plethora of additional courses), but we don't have too many extra classes thankfully, however come September our entire work schedule is getting revamped. Bad news is no more split shift; good news is we change most of our classes - it gets tedious for the students AND the teacher when we've all been together for a few months - and we'll finish our day at least one class (45 minutes) earlier.

Insert Your Cheesy Ending Here
Anderson & Liz

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The week after our rafting excursion flew by in anticipation of the arrival of Anderson's parents. They actually got into Seoul Wednesday evening, however the combination of their inevitable jet lag (2.5 days of sleep was the result) and our work schedule meant we didn't show up until Saturday morning. We took the first KTX train from Busan, right at 5am, and arrived in Seoul just before 8. Marcia & Rod were staying, thanks to hotel "points," at the Millennium Seoul Hilton - a fabulous 5-star hotel!
So we arrived in the lap of luxury, had a spectacular breakfast buffet 2 mornings in a row, and took advantage of the top-notch fitness center (puts our home gym to shame) just before we left. While in Seoul we went to the Seoul National Museum, which was packed with all sorts of Korean artifacts, including quite a few of the nation's "National Treasures." The Korean government has compiled a list of the best of the best and we've seen quite a few of them during our time here. Although with a total of 307, we'll never really get close to seeing them all :-) The museum also featured some nice collections of other Asian art, although by that time in our museum visit we were moving quite speedily through the galleries!
Afterwards we headed to a little more action-packed cultural experience: a performance of Miso at the Chongdong Theater. Set up in traditional Korean style, the theater finds a nice balance between the ancient and modern. Thus, while deeply rooted in Korean drama of yesteryear, the intent is definitely to entertain the modern audience rather than bore them. So the performance, which combines music, dance, song, and acrobatics, is high-energy and highly entertaining. Having seen many a culture show elsewhere in Asia, what truly set this one apart was the genuine passion and joy of the participants. If you are ever in Seoul, this is definitely worth checking out, and at only $20 quite affordable.
From Seoul we took an afternoon bus to Jeonju, which ended up being literally direct, as opposed to the usual half-journey reststop. But given how close Jeonju is, at just over 2.5 hours, everything worked out well. Sunny had found us a nice hotel, The Riviera, right on the edge of the traditional village which, besides the wonderful food, is Jeonju's main touristic claim to fame. Over 900 traditional houses are still thriving in the center of the city, a combination of homes and shops. There are many stores selling hanji, traditional paper made from mulberry bark, as well as old-style tea houses. The city is constantly improving the area, and a waterway has been recently established that was under construction during our last visit to see Sunny. Jeonju's food of course did not disappoint, as we enjoyed many a tasty meal. Highlights included bibimbap (mixed vegetables and rice), gamjatang (potato/pork spine soup), and some cold noodle soups in bean sprout and black bean sauces. We spent our days meandering about the village, making ourselves hanji ties (think tye-died style), drinking tea, and window-shopping; our nights were spent recovering from dinner and chatting with Sunny & Zoe in our hotel room.
From Jeonju we returned home to Busan, with Anderson's parents staying only 2 blocks away in the same "love motel" that we stayed in when we first arrived in Korea. It was very nice and fun to finally show Rod & Marcia what our life is really like, from our apartment to our school, to our neighborhood and the highlights of Busan. We went to two of the most famous temples: the temple by the sea Haedong Yonggungsa, and Beomeosa which is set in a contrasting forest environment. We of course went to the aquarium (probably our last visit there, we're a bit aquariumed out by now), and foolishly took the nighttime city bus tour - not worth it at all as the only think worth seeing at all is the Gwangan Bridge...
The days definitely flew by, and soon enough our vacation was over and we had to return to work. Marcia & Rod did get to see COREM then, and they sat in on a couple of our kindergarten classes in the morning. Their two weeks in Korea had past, and so the next morning we set them up in a taxi around 4:30 am so they could get to the airport in time for their 7 am flight to Seoul. All went smoothly and they are back in America, sleeping to recover :-).
It was really wonderful to spend quality time with our parents after a two year hiatus. They can now relate to our life and experiences here much better and we are very thankful that they took the time to explore this culture. They were lucky enough to have many "Asian" things happen to them. For example, obliging requests for a photo with strangers, getting talked to and talking to people in languages neither can understand, and having people openly stare out of sheer curiosity. Even the mundane for Asians, like taking shoes off in restaurants, working the shower and using tiny towels, or bowing to people is hard to adapt to in such a short amount of time. It's these daily travel occurrences that are hardest to relate to people that have never experienced them, and it's our reactions to them that help us understand ourselves better. Rod and Marcia took it all in stride, and for that, we are very proud of them.
Since their departure we've worked one week, and this past weekend we went to Haeundae Beach both Saturday and Sunday. Anderson's a bit red from the sun, but it was quite relaxing, we got some quality reading and swimming in both days with Blaise and Joe. We also went to see Batman: The Dark Knight on Saturday night, which was certainly grandiose and epic, but didn't disappoint one bit.
This next weekend is 3 days long, no school on Friday, but we are working a voluntary-but-paid English Village weekend camp for upper-elementary students on Saturday and Sunday. So the bad news is our weekend is really only one day long, but the good news is the weekend should be fun enough and put some extra money in our pockets!

That's that from Busan, just cleaning the house up a bit today since it got a bit messy over the weekend!

Anderson & Liz
A lot's happened since the last post, so this'll be broken into 2. First up - rafting and such and such in INJE.
Inje's located in the far north-east corner of Korea, although we actually stayed in the beach side town of Seokcho. Between the two towns is a large and beautiful national park, amongst Korea's best: Seoraksan National Park. We took the overnight bus, along with Blaise & Nayoung, from Busan to Seokcho, and thanks to some Dramamine managed to actually get a half-decent amount of sleep. We arrived around 5:30 am, and were met at the bus station by Sunny.
We stayed at an excellent hotel, more of a conference center actually, with nice big rooms, a jjimjilbang AND swimming pool in the basement, and trampolines outside! Sunny's whole family was there, so we finally got to meet her father, and we also met her aunt, uncle, and 2 cousins. Our first stop was the downstairs jjimjilbang, which felt very soothing so early in the morning. Despite our exhaustion we didn't sleep, just relaxed, and prepared ourselves (ha) for the raw squid & lettuce wrap breakfast prepared by Sunny's mother and aunt. It was tasty, as tasty as chewy raw squid can be in at 8am on a dreary Saturday morning... :-).
We then headed into the national park, and hiked up around 800 meters to a high-point called Ulsan Rock. The climb was steep, and a bit slick since it had started to drizzle - but there was a helpful staircase for the worst parts... although the metal steps were actually harder to navigate than the rocks because of the rain. Koreans love their hiking - and Sunny's parents are no different - they beat us to the top of the rock by at least 15 minutes!
The rain started to pick up, as we descended back down the path, past a small temple and a massive Buddha statue. We then headed to Inje to go rafting. By then the rain was pretty much pouring, but thankfully it was rather warm, and obviously being soaked while rafting isn't all that unusual. Rafting was only $25, though none too challenging. Fortunately it was a lot of fun, the guide was good despite the river being packed with other rafts, and there were a few rapids and one big dropoff. It lasted about 2 hours, with the final stop being some freezing cold water coming down from a mountain that Liz adamantly refused (to no avail :-) to sit in.
Back to the hotel we went, thoroughly soaked, for a delicious dinner of pork lettuce wraps. We had a fun night at the hotel, culminating in some trampoline usage once the rain finally stopped around midnight.
The next morning we returned the culinary favor American-style by making our somewhat infamous spicy-tuna sandwiches. Let us know when we're at your house - we'll make 'em for you, too. Even the old Korean men, traditional food fans if there ever were any, ate the sandwiches, though we're sure the would've preferred more raw squid if they had the choice!
The rest of our day was spent on an 8-hour bus ride back to Busan, we'll spare you those details because it was simply too amazing to fairly describe.

So that was almost 3 weeks ago now, all our adventures with Anderson's parents will be posted very, very soon.