Sights, Sounds and Smells

15 10 2009

by Shauna Vo

Sights. Korea has a distinct smell to it. I don’t mean to complain or give Korea generalizations. These observations have been from my time so far here in Ulsan. Everyday Randy and I have a 20 minute walk to school. We walk about half way together and then part ways. On our way to school, we pass several interesting sights and smells. whaleWe see a map of the neighborhood with a cartoon character of a whale. Then, we see a huge whale restaurant with a humpback whale on the sign. Ulsan is known for their rich whaling history. The whale is, of course, the city’s symbol. We were quite weary of this when we discovered it and still are. When we asked our co-teachers why there are so many whale restaurants in the city, considering the fact that hunting whale is illegal, they said that whales die naturally and that is why there are so many restaurants that serve whale meat. But, I don’t know how long you can keep whale meat until it is no longer fresh. Our friends who have tried whale meat say that it tastes very beefy and some parts, they say, taste like roast beef. I hope we are not encountered with having to try whale meat.

Riding the bus in Korea is no joke! As soon as you pay your 1,000 won (less than $1) you better grab a hold of something because the drivers here don’t care. As you can imagine even the city buses are Hyundai and the bus drivers think that they’re in a street race. They make very sharp and frequent stops. I am waiting for the day to see a flying Korean Superman in the air. When you ride the city bus, think of it as getting a serious ab workout.

Sounds. Like any city, there is always construction going on in Ulsan. But, what is different from any city or country, Korea completes construction projects in no time! During our fourth week of school, they were drilling a hole in half of the alley way that we walk through to get to school. I’m not quite sure what they were doing. But, it only took them a week to drill the hole, move the concrete, take out the pipes and re-pave the road.

Next to the holes, they were building a new convenience store. They started it when I got to Ulsan and finished it within two or three weeks! At first, I couldn’t tell that it was supposed to be a store, I thought it was just a place that was torn down. But, two weeks later, they had a brightly colored sign above the store and tons of food and snacks to purchase.

Smells. There are some parts of Korea that are so beautiful, such as the huge mountains behind the city full of skyscrapers. But, when you step into the city and in the alley ways, you see a Ulsandifferent part of Korea. Taxis are rushing to find the next customer and bikers are speeding down the street, making the loudest sounds. Every day we walk through an alley way that has such a potent smell. We have discovered that Korea doesn’t have the greatest sewage system. Instead of using a garbage disposal, we have to separate our compost into a different dumpster. Thank goodness we live on the 11th floor of our apartment building because the smell of sewage and compost here is disgusting! We have to hold our breath when we pass by sewage holes on the way to school. Although Korea is not a third world country by any means, this is one area where they could improve.


Getting Settled and Discovering Korea

14 10 2009

by Randy Pulayya

Culture. It has been almost two months since we arrived to Korea and we are finally getting adjusted to the Korean culture and way of life. One of the biggest things that we noticed is how much emphasis that the Korean government focuses on learning English. English is a main subject in Korean schools, along with the regular subjects such as science, math and social studies. A typical middle school student starts his or her day at 7am and ends by 4pm. After 4pm it’s straight to the academy. Most children are involved in some after school activities that are usually required and not necessarily anything like sports or clubs. They are usually enrolled in an after school private program (an academy) where they study all subjects but mostly English until 9pm. Saturdays are not considered the weekend for kids in Korea, it’s considered academy time.
Missing Home. McDonald’s in Korea delivers right to your apartment. Just call 1600 5252 and you are directed to the main calling center in Seoul, South Korea. The operator takes your address and finds it on their system. Our address is 1108 Dongsan Parkville Dal-dong, Namgu, Ulsan South Korea. You think it’s that easy telling them, right? Haaaaaa guess again!! After three phone calls we finally struck gold! We got our food delivered in 10 minutes. FYI, there is a surcharge of 900 won for delivery. That comes to less than one dollar! If you’re feeling lazy and want to stay in for the evening it’s worth it!
Adventures. This weekend we went paragliding in Ulsan! It was a long day but it was worth waiting around for the wind to pick up. We spent the entire day waiting for the wind to pick up on top a a beautiful mountain. It is no comparison to skydiving but, they say you should try everything in life at least once. There is no other feeling to describe being up in the air until you have done it. You do feel like a bird.

Are we still in Korea?

9 10 2009

Happy Chuseok, Korea! Chuseok is Korea’s thanksgiving holiday. It is a time when families gather to remember and pay respects to their ancestors. They spend many days preparing food and offerings and then go to their ancestors’ graves, which is sometimes on the sides of mountains, to pray and give the offerings. But, because we got two and a half days off of work, we made a trip to Jeju Island (Jeju-do)!

The first thing we noticed about Jeju Island is how clean and fresh the air is. Once we stepped off of the plane, it felt like we were in a different country. Jeju is comparable to Hawaii. Couples from all over Asia travel to Jeju for their honey moon. It is Korea’s largest island and is pretty much a huge dormant volcano surrounded by the most beautiful beaches. Mount Halla stands tall in the center of the island while black volcanic rocks line the clear blue ocean shore. It is the most beautiful sight, with sparkling water, lush trees, tropical fruit and enormous mountains surrounding you. Hyeopjae beachThe first and only beach we went to (because of time restraints) was Hyeopjae Beach. They say that it is one the most beautiful beaches. It felt secluded, as there weren’t very many people there. It is a small beach, not for the waves or even for sunbathing, but just to enjoy the beauty. The water was shallow, just to the ankles or calves. Kids were playing in the water, fully clothed. A few girls were lying out, but not in bikinis. And couples took pictures together along the coast and drew hearts in the sand. In Korea, people go to beaches fully clothed. I think it is because they do not want to get sunburned or darker. It seems that Koreans think that pale white skin is ideal. There might be other reasons why Koreans swim fully clothed, but I haven’t found out why.

Near Hyeopjae Beach is a spectacular botanical garden called Hallim Park. A lot of the parks in Jeju are not free because the island makes its money from tourism. Hallim Park cost 7,000 KRW, which is about 6 USD. It was totally worth it. It took us about three hours to get through the park. It is filled with all kinds of plant families, cacti, palm trees, bonsai trees, hibiscus and iris flowers and much, much more. We also went through three different lava caves that were made from limestone and had stalactites dripping from the ceiling and stalagmites forming from the floor. Click here for more pictures of Hyeopjae Beach and Hallim Park.

Another well-known site for couples is a park called Loveland. It’s a park of its own kind. Among Korea’s traditional and conservative culture, this park stands out. Public displays of affection are frowned upon, living with your boyfriend before marriage is forbidden and being single after 30 means that you will never marry. But, Loveland is a place where these things do not matter. “Loveland is a place where love oriented art and eroticism meet,” according to their Web site. It was created by 20 artists from Hongik University in Seoul. Their liberal views have made a unique stamp on one of Korea’s most traversed places. Because of the vulgarity of the pictures we took, we cannot post them on our blog. Please contact us if you would like to see these very erotic photos (18 years and older, sorry Sean and Kaveeta).

On our last day in Jeju, we climbed an oreum in Sarabong Park, which is part of the Mount Halla, but they are much smaller. It takes about eight to nine hours to hike Mount Halla. We didn’t have time to do it this time, but we will next time! Hiking the oreums was a workout anyway. It took about two hours to hike one oreum, one hour up and one hour down. Every park or mountain in Korea has workout stations. I eat these up because a gym membership is so expensive!

Jeju is a beautiful place and we will return. Next time, we will climb Mount Halla and try our feet at surfing! We have to thank our friend Daphne for letting us stay with her in Shin-Jeju. Thanks Daphne!