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Rachel in Korea!

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South Korea, 2008-2009

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Seoul, South Korea

Well helllooooo there!!

Let me explain myself...please! The reason that I've been so MIA on this site is because most weekends currently find me trekking around South Korea, exploring big cities, little town, and lost rice fields. Look for updates beginning now--

This past weekend was most certainly one of my favorites in Korea. A group of nine people hopped onto the KTX, the extremely fast train of Korea, for a three hour train ride to the opposite end of the country, home to the second-largest city of Korea, Busan. Boy, were my expectations shattered! Everything that I had read about the city told me to prepare for grey, cement-clad streets with nothing else to show for themselves than an 'x' on a tourist map. Instead, I found a city bursting with energy and a level of friendliness unmatched by anywhere else that I've been to in the country, so much so that even the fish vendors wanted to give us slighty sticky hugs of welcome!

The first group of us didn't arrive in Busan until midnight, but still found the city in a state that ensured us of our wise choice. We had a pension reserved for us near one of Busan's many beaches, so hopped into a cab and zoomed off into the night, cruising past mega-luxury apartment complexes, side alleys one step away from an explosion of neon lights, and semi-deserted beaches where the parties and bonfires were only getting started. Upon entering our pension, we knew were were in for an adventure when we were greeted by six blankets, a hard floor, and no bathroom sink. But, where's the fun in a standard hotel room, anyway? Bring it!!

Saturday morning and early afternoon were spent wandering the aisles and docks of Jagalchi Fish Market, the largest one in Korea, and definitely worth a stop. In fact, we decided to combine two tourist stops into one--the fish market and aquarium, because we realized that the market would most likely have everything that the aquarium would, and as an added bonus, we could eat it! Entertainment still abounded, with
highlights including: octopi refusing to accept their fate and continuously escaping out of their buckets of doom, having water fights with odd squirting sea worms (with the vendors approval!), marvelling at huge king crabs that cost more than a month's worth of expenses, and being offered for 10,000 won to a group of Korean fishermen by my oh-so-kind fellow travellers. After taking in all the sights with our eyes, we made sure to allow our mouths the same pleasures, so ordered fish from a vendor, who fished them out of the aquarium and fried them up for an extraordinary meal!

The rest of Saturday found us taking in the sights of Busan on a tour bus, before ending up on its most famous beach to catch the last rays of sun.

The frigid water wasn't nearly as welcoming for me as the warm sand, and I apparently liked it enough to now have some come out of my purse everytime I go in! It was funny though, as Haeundae Beach is the largest and most famous one in Korea, yet there were so many umbrellas covering it that I wondered a bit as to why! Though with the amount that my fellow Korean teachers have commented today on my 'unhealthy' appearance due to a slight tan and freckles, I'm beginning to understand..

Sunday we went to Beomosa Temple, the most famous one of Busan. It was up in the mountains, overlooking the city, and beautiful. A stream ran alongside its buildings, which lent an incredible sense of calm over the entire site. A Buddhist monk greeted us with tea and snacks at the temple's entrance, and signed for us to enjoy ourselves.

And, because no weekend visit is complete without at least two tasty meals, we finished off the trip back in downtown Busan, in the Foreigner's Shopping District. Unsure of what exactly this meant, we trekked through, expecting to find a bit of an American flair, instead happening upon an entire district of Russian shops and restaurants! That said, we sat ourselves down in a teeny tiny cafe, with barely enough seats for us and a Russian couple, and stuffed ourselves with greasy deliciousness, so much so that it put me to sleep as soon as I got on the train back to Seoul. I woke up at Seoul Station feeling so lucky to have had such an amazing weekend!

You can check out a handful of the pictures from the weekend at the following link:

permalink written by  Rachel in Korea! on June 28, 2009 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea, 2008-2009
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Jeonju International Film Festival

Seoul, South Korea

Get this--May 5 is a national holiday in Korea, meaning that there's no school, no work, and only play. The holiday's name? Children's Day. Not to be confused with Parent's Day or Teacher's Day, both which follow a few days behind, but neither warranting a day free from school. But I'm getting sidetracked! Children's Day resulted in a four day weekend, which I proceeded to use to visit somewhere within Korea.

Jeonju, a city in the south of South Korea known primarily for its traditional cuisine, hosted its 10th annual film festival over the same time that I had no school. So the Friday before my long weekend, I decided why not, and packed my bags for a weekend of films and food.

Without knowing much about films myself, it seemed to me that there was a large sampling of films offered, spanning multiple continents, genres, and time periods. The first one that I saw was part of a special section highlighting the films from Sri Lanka. It was titled Ponmani, and initially roused my curiosity due to its description as a new version of Romeo and Juliet. The director was also there, and within the first minute of his introduction, I realized that I was in for a treat. He kept talking about the political climate of Sri Lanka in the 1970s, and how it contributed to his artistic sway while making the movie. Once it started, it became so clear what exactly he was referring to--the film was in black and white, from the '70s, and apparently the first one created in Sri Lanka in the Tamil language. So while a landmark for its newness, it wasn't enough to keep me awake. Without realizing it, right in front of the director, oops.

There were a few other hiccups, most notably a Korean film titled The Origin of Water. I think my ability to recognize art in film must be extremely off, because I didn't particularly enjoy this one either. Oh well! In between films we allowed ourselves to feel extremely cultural by enjoying delicious coffee drinks at various shops around the area--some of the best coffee I've been able to find in Korea! What a treat!

If you want to take a look at what the film festival was like, its site is below.


permalink written by  Rachel in Korea! on May 17, 2009 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea, 2008-2009
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Seoul, South Korea


The link above is for my album on Facebook that has pictures of the two trips I took down to Gyeongju, waaaay down south in Korea. What great adventures!

The first was with Mom and Audrey, to get some extra bang for their Korean buck in terms of Korean culture. What a perfect place to go, as Gyeongju is the original site of the Silla dynasty, the kingdom that ruled the southern part of the Korean peninsula for over one thousand years. Of course the wooden structures have long disappeared due to wars and time, but the sense of history is profound. My camera skills were simple unable to capture the early morning mist draped over the tops of the mountains, with ancient temples dotting the landscape...it was the things dreams are made of.

The second trip was to explore the same area using a different means of transportation--bikes! While the entire country is mountainous, we were able to challenge the steep slopes and come out victorious. The main point was to see the first cherry blossoms of South Korea, as the city is so far south in the country. And what a site they were! All of the streets and hillsides were covered with white and pink flowers, making for spectacular sights and even better memories.

permalink written by  Rachel in Korea! on April 15, 2009 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea, 2008-2009
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Seoul, South Korea

Jeesh! Overdue doesn't even come close to describing how tardy this post is in coming! Perhaps I should research Twitter, the new fad I've been reading about. That way, every breath I take and movement I make I can inform others about. Though the way things sometimes happen over here, I'm most likely discovering it months and months after its initial appearance. Aaaaanyway....

Life has been full of occurrences the past few months. Going back to the States for a week, a new semester, family coming to Korea, it's hard to keep track of it all! But let me try to give a brief rundown on the main events~~

The end of February saw me back safely to the US for a week and a half to spend much-needed quality time with family in Denver. Everyone was able to be home together for a weekend, which was such a blessing. I was able to have happy moments with not only the family, but also with American shopping!! Shoes that fit my Western gorilla feet, jeans that extend past my calf, who knew that such ordinary items would be worth their weight in gold to me this far into my time in Korea! Not only was I able to revel in American shopss, but I made sure to stuff myself silly with food that I had been missing from home. Top of the list was salmon and fresh baby spinach. Mmmmm.

Being around such ordinary things in America was a wonderful reminder to not take for granted the little things we see daily. As much as I loved being home, it was a good wake up call to make sure to appreciate every day I've been given in Korea. Just as moments at home were fleeting, they are here as well, and I don't want to miss a single one!

I'm now one month into the new school year here. It's bizarre to Americans, but Koreans work their school year differently, instead beginning a new school year with the beginning of a new calendar year. Vacation times still roughly coincide with those in the US, but even those vary in their utility. Technically speaking, the students have most of January and February off for their winter and spring vacations, yet they use this time for intense educational camps. I led an English camp for interested students in January, and know already that I will do something similar in July.

While I don't think that I will be a teacher for life, I've come to love the chance to work with students here. There is the obvious English instruction, but I've come to love what happens outside of the classroom even more than I do English. And that's saying something! The students have begun to overcome their instilled Korean shyness to actually interact with the weird foreign alien teacher! Obviously some are more willing to talk than others, but everyday brings me new stories and smiles from what happens at Nammun.

If the rest of my time continues in the same fashion, it will have been a fantastic year indeed!

permalink written by  Rachel in Korea! on March 30, 2009 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea, 2008-2009
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The Original Korean Winter Sport

Seoul, South Korea

Korea is not a flat country. In fact, I've been told by Koreans that roughly 75 percent of it is covered by mountains and hills. The remaining 25 percent is divided between human establishments and Fields. I personally feel that having such little flat land in a country has causes a very strong economical streak in Koreans, so much so that they seem to always know what to do to best preserve any and all land or materials that come into their hands.

This being said, Korea has the most ingenious winter tradition of any that I have previously witnessed. While mountains abound in this country, lakes and ponds do not. So during the winter season, some generous Korean farmers flood their small Fields with water just enough so that it freezes and provides a smooth surface on which children (at heart) can play.

I don't know what the proper name of this sport is, so I've since named it Butt Skating. The pictures should provide ample enough evidence as to why it has been labelled as such. I've never felt so entertained while sitting outside in winter before! Hah, while that was a really specific "never", it's true!

Our adventure began on a day that couldn't have been more than 15 degrees outside, with a hefty amount of wind to boot. We were unloaded out of the car and shepherded to a small shack next to the Field, where we were given the butt skate and two sticks. The butt skate is literally a square board that has two skates on the bottom! We were told to sit down,
use the sticks to propel ourselves forward (or back, or to the side), and we were off! The adventure only lasted maybe 30 minutes because of the frigid temperatures, but those few minutes were precious for the chance to learn yet something new about this fascinating place.

permalink written by  Rachel in Korea! on February 2, 2009 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea, 2008-2009
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Next Stop...Olympics

Seoul, South Korea

This past weekend a group of Madisonians ventured out into the Korean wilderness to test their hands (and feet) at the great outdoor sports of skiing and snowboarding. Some met fates of disaster, others of glee, but everyone was in agreement that all fates that befell them were replete with good times.

Practically all of Saturday afternoon was spent with my butt, hands, knees, head, or a combination thereof firmly planted on the side of the mountain. They were never placed there gracefully, instead being subjected to the cruel forces of gravity. In other words, I fell. Not once, not twice, but all afternoon. Forwards, backwards, sideways, and into stationary objects. If one could count the number of ways a person could suddenly crumple into the ground, I feel I could safely claim that I managed to accidentally perform a high percentage of the list.

As anyone who has learned to snowboard can attest, the trials of the first few precarious hours are in fact not as horrible as they are often depicted. True, fragile bodies had best not attempt to dance the dance of two feet moving in unison while plummeting down a mountain. But, for the brave souls who have wrestled a beastly snowboard and come out standing for more than five consecutive seconds, there is a sudden rush of adrenaline as a reward that propels them on their downward journey.

Teetering and tottering down the hazardous slope also known as the bunny hill for four hours, I slowly honed my snowboarding skill so that by the end of the day, I was able to maneover my board and myself down to the bottom and safety while staying upright. Upright is of course a relative term, because no matter how much my "skills" improved, I was continuously hunched over, arms splayed, ready to wobble as much as was necessary to preserve balance.

As with any practice, certain skills come more easily than do others. Snowboarding is no exception. In my case, I quickly realized that first came standing, then came moving while standing, then came turning while moving and standing. While these can be faceted into any and every odd combination, I discovered that very few led to snowboarding success. At one point during the afternoon, I was learning the technique behind the ever-evasive turn. Sliding down the mountain, I quickly picked up how to turn left, and became ecstatic at my new skill proceededing to keep it up as long as possible. However, as all people know, hills are not infinite, and bunny hills have edges. This became increasingly apparent to me as me and my board slid closer to the leftmost part

of the slope. Yet while I had learned to turn left, I had conveniently forgotten to learn how to turn right or stop. In too few seconds for me to understand, I had accidentally guided my board into the orange DANGER fence that clearly marked the ease of the bunny hill from the next door blue. But even here I was unable to stop. So my board, myself and the fence into which I had crashed took a trip away from comfort and into distress. Who knew that DANGER fences would be so elastic?? Isn't their entire purpose devoted to the preservation of the safety of runaway snowboards with humans attached such as myself? Either way, I think the appearance of a not-yet-beginner snowboarder and DANGER fence into the nextdoor run made enough of a show to ensure that a collision with a person on a blue would not take place. Thank God for that!

permalink written by  Rachel in Korea! on December 22, 2008 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea, 2008-2009
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Slippery Slopes sans Seatbelts

Seoul, South Korea

I have a bone to pick with the Koreans. To be honest, I think all of the potential bones worth picking would amount to an entire skeleton, but that's beside the point. I am completely baffled that so many are still alive after braving the daily battle of Korean traffic.

Yes, that which is beyond my comprehension boils down to the simple mechanical ingenuity that is the automobile. Not just any automobile, but specifically those of the Korean variety. And not only the said Korean automobile, but the Korean drivers that constantly put themselves in mortal peril as soon as they hop in.

Let us begin with the basic construction of the cars, and the rules that govern their interior space. The metaphor for that which is the essence of Korean driving can be witnessed through the simple fact that Korean cars do not come equipped with a seatbelt on the back right side. The back left and the center tend to always be provided for, yet for some unknown reason, perhaps a universal construction overlook due to there only being enough thread for all of the other seatbelts, the back right seat is always cheated out of this proven lifesaver. Add to the irony that the back right seat is thought to be the most revered and safest in the car, so that it is always an honor to be motioned to the seat. Being a woman, I have had the stroke of luck to be offered this seat every time there are two other men in the car. The men brave the innumerable dangers of the front seat with only their seatbelts for protection, while I am left in the safest spot of the car, which, of course, lacks the one tool known for its safety factor. Le it be known that I have nothing against the back seat. In fact, I adore it. For it is only in the back that one is allowed the privilege to enjoy a few precious moments of respite, as it is also considered improper to attempt to cross the invisible barrier between the front and back of the car with conversation. So here, in my seat of solitude, I have made a new art of weaving the words of the front, the music of the radio, and the strands of my own thoughts into webs that float along with as little care as to the path they take as does the driver.

The person behind the wheel holds the most important role of the car, that being to keep it on the road, away from other cars, and ideally steer it safely to its destination. I've realized that Korean drivers seem to find value only in the last duty on the list. No matter what the risks might be, drivers here seem fearless, using their cat-like reflexes to dodge any bullet that might be shot their way. Red lights are mere suggestions here, and even the presence of pedestrians does not always cause oncoming vehicles to reduce their speed. Left turns on red lights are frequent as well, and the cars that might otherwise have hit the semi that pulls out in front of them are forced to brake and skid off the road. And in mentioning 'cars,' I am of course referring to our own car on the way to school this morning. :)

I'm not familiar with the statistics of Korean traffic accidents, but I could see them being extreme in either direction. Between the lack of seatbelts and the conflicting careful daredevil attitude that persists, the I am once again beguiled by one small aspect of this fascinating country.

permalink written by  Rachel in Korea! on December 11, 2008 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea, 2008-2009
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Seoul, South Korea

First, I apologize for how extremely long overdue this post is. There might be the appearance of not much happening over here, but that is quite the reverse! Instead of regailing the world web with a specific tale of the present happenings, I've decided to keep it simple with a brief account of what has been going on in the past month (oops).

New friends have been made, which is always a positive point. I've begun going to a weekly dinner in Uijeongbu specifically for English teachers. The mastermind behind the meetings is a South African man that somehow convinced his school that these dinners are necessary to the native speaker's morale, so the Korean government sponsors them! Well, not the beer, because apparently a few weeks ago (before I started going!) the beer flowed a little too quickly and caused the government to insist that we now pay for our own. Probably better this way. I feel so lucky to have been invited, because they really are a great chance to get together with other people who speak the same language and share what's been going on in our lives. If nothing else, find support and ideas for dealing with whatever might come up during the week.

Every weekday still begins with me at Nammun, doing whatever they think I do best. The students still like me, so I must be doing something right! The school is actually finishing up their final exams today, which means that the end of the semester should be relatively smooth sailing. The school year finishes at the end of December, and begins in March, so the students are getting excited to be done. Especially the 9th graders, who are about to make the transition to high school, seem to be getting particularly anxious! I think that more than anything, my job the next few weeks will be simply to keep the students under control. I'm not exactly sure why exams are given with three weeks left in the year, but whatever, it's merely my job to go with it. So go with it I shall...

The weather has turned cold, and everyone is preparing for the long winter ahead. In fact, in snowed the other night, and all of Korea celebrated! That is, until the next morning, when they quickly remembered that they had to drive the through the mountains on the slippery roads from the night before. While the snow didn't stay for long, it was a good reminder that winter is now indeed upon us, and measures must be taken to stay warm! I've begun wearing long underwear to school because of the cold. I think I've mentioned it to a few of you, but few areas of the school are actually heated. Luckily for me, I sit right underneath one of the large heaters in the teacher's room, so I'm fine while at my desk, but the classrooms tend to be a different story. And then I see the poor girl students in their knee-length skirts, and wonder how their legs still manage to work after the cold!

Alright, time for class, thanks for reading, and send me reminders to get my butt in gear and keep this thing up to date! Love, Rachel.

permalink written by  Rachel in Korea! on December 10, 2008 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea, 2008-2009
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Korean French

Seoul, South Korea

There has been a recent development in my time in Korea, being that practicing my French skills with other Koreans has now become an option!

SungSou, a friend from Madison, is both a Business major and a French major, while being practically fluent in English. We were finally able to see him on Friday for the first time in months, and what a treat it was! We met near Hangkuk University of Foreign Studies, where he attends, so that we could be exposed to a true Korean university experience. After wandering down winding alleys lined with brightly-decorated restaurants with delicious-smelling offerings, he led us into a packed restaurant. The decor was quintessently made for university students: christmas lights strung on the ceilings, enormous soju posters hung on the walls, and markers all around so that everyone might discover their hidden artistic talents, with only the walls having to pay a small sacrifice. Regardless, the restaurant is apparently famous for its delicious, enormous, and best of all, cheap pajeon. And, surprise surprise, it lived up to its reputation! Deeeelicious. (Pajeon is a type of doughy Korean pancake, usually stuffed with seafood, green onions, and whatever else is around the kitchen that the cook is trying to get rid of. A favorite!)

After a couple of pots of dongdongju (a type of slightly carbonated rice wine), we were off to a new establishment, with an even greater selling point. After escaping from the maze of alleys, SungSou led us to a door that was practically hidden from the main street. Going down, the most wonderful sound hit my ears, that of the language of my last international adventure--French! It's true...we had been led to an underground gathering place for all of the French majors of the neighboring university, and while most people spoke Korean amongst themselves, they were all more than willing to speak French with me. This last part of the night held an enormous amount of irony for me: here I am in Korea, where my Korean skills are sadly much above nill, but I was able to use what little French ability I have left to finally talk to Koreans! It was a rather exhilerating experience. To cap it off, there was a variety show (unfortunately not in French) in which students got up and sang the two popular Korean songs of the moment. In drag. What could be better?

permalink written by  Rachel in Korea! on November 16, 2008 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea, 2008-2009
tagged Seoul and Nightlife

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Dooly the Dinosaur

Seoul, South Korea

How it began: "You will wear masks and interview children in English."

First of all, what?! Why must masks be worn, and why oh why are we interviewing children in English when they can't even speak it? Apparently these questions weren't in fact pertinent to the coordinators of the festival, because we never received any answers. But first, an explanation: Nick, Adam, and I had been asked through Nick's coteacher if we'd be willing to volunteer at the English festival in Uijeongbu this past weekend. We replied that we would indeed be able to help, not exactly knowing what we had enlisted ourselves to do..

The day itself was less than ideal, as it was overcast with a slight drizzle falling throughout the course of the afternoon. But this soon did not seem to matter, as I

realized that my hair would be in no immediate danger of getting wet because....I was to wear a character suit for the afternoon! Very soon after arriving, I was given the choice as to whether I would prefer to dress up as Pokemon or Dooly the baby dinosaur. The Pokemon outfit looked a tad on the edge of sanity, so I chose to be Dooly (Drooly as my nickname soon came to be).

The majority of the rest of the afternoon was spent traipsing around as Dooly the Dinosaur), asking all of the children if they wanted pieces of candy.

As much fun as it was being hugged and poked by everyone that somehow truly did believe that I was a big furry (?!) green dinosaur, I permitted myself to realize that I have looked better. See the pictures for yourselves, and judge accordingly!

In the end, I'm able to admit that my skills as a faux dinosaur are perhaps next to nill. Yet, the smiles and laughs that were a result of being willing to make fools of ourselves are that which will remain my favorite aspect of the day.

permalink written by  Rachel in Korea! on November 16, 2008 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: South Korea, 2008-2009
tagged Uijeongbu

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