Merry Christmas!

23 12 2009

Merry Christmas to all of our family and friends! Thanks for your love and support as we are in Korea. We miss everyone very much, especially during this season. But we are thankful for our new friends here. Best wishes to everyone for the new year! Enjoy the slide show!

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Hanji and more in Andong

22 12 2009

The Ministry of Education (MOE) in Ulsan, South Korea has treated us like royalty. They take care of everything. When we first got here, we had orientation for 10 days that somewhat prepared us for teaching in Korea. But of course, learning to teach is something you have to practice to actually learn how to do it. Since we’ve been in Ulsan, we have been on two overnight trips with the MOE. The MOE pays for everything on these trips. They take care of transportation, food and the hotel room. It’s such a blessing that we get to experience different parts of Korea that hardly any Koreans get to experience themselves.

We went to Andong for our first trip. Andong is a small city in the Gyeongsangbuk-do province. It took about three hours to get there from Ulsan. Andong is known for its traditional paper making factory and for the mask festival, which was canceled this year because of the H1N1 flu. After the bus ride, they provided us with lunch at a bulgogi restaurant.

Then, they took us to the hanji or paper factory where we made our own traditional Korean mask out of paper mache. But, this wasn’t just any kind of paper. This type of paper, that they call hanji, is handmade. It’s such an old tradition that I hope the owners will carry on the art of paper making to the younger generation. Unfortunately, these factories are hard to find these days.

We took a tour of the factory and saw how hard the old men and women (ajoshis and ajummas) work. Hanji is all-natural and made from mulberry bark. It is steamed in water and then two women separate each piece of the bark individually. Another job for the ajummas (old women) is to dry the piece of paper on a hot very piece of metal. Then, the ajoshis (old men) dye the paper with all kinds of beautiful colors.

Old women individually separate each piece of the mulberry bark after it is steamed.

Old women dry the paper with their bare hands on a hot metal structure.

Old men dye the paper many different vibrant colors.

Not only is it beautiful how they make hanji, but fall in Korea is so beautiful! The national tree, the ginkgo biloba, starts changing colors from a vibrant green to a deep yellow. We had the privilege to see the fall season in a traditional folk village called Hahoe village and on our way to Bongjeongsa temple.

Another perk to going on these trips, is that we get to meet and get to know more people in our program. There are two organizations that the MOE is responsible for, EPIK (English Program in Korea) and TALK Scholars. Most of the time TALK Scholars are still taking classes in college. EPIK teachers must have a bachelor’s degree. But people from both organizations are equally great people. Though, I was really surprised to meet a girl from Oklahoma who went to a college near my hometown! She is currently a student at University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS). There is another guy who goes to UAFS as well! And a girl from Conway, Arkansas. This is just proof that the world isn’t as big as it seems and as we try to explore more, we are able to find a taste of home anywhere.

Bathing like a King and Queen

11 12 2009

The best thing to do after hiking is to find a jjimjilbong (찜질방). A jjimjilbong is a spa and sauna that is divided into male and female bath houses. They give you shorts, a shirt and a few towels, and then you go into the respective locker rooms and get naked. The first thing you must do before you step into the steaming jet stream bath is take a shower. Although everyone bathes in the same bath, Koreans don’t want you to contaminate the water, so you must wash off before entering any of the baths. Koreans also scrub each other in jjimjilbongs to get all of the dead skin off. After this, you are able to bathe in the hot bath, cold bath or salt bath. But, a jjimjilbong is much more than openly bathing with other people. After you’ve scrubbed your body to full freshness, you relocate to the sauna area in the clothes provided to meet other people, males and females. There are thousands of jjimjilbongs in Korea. But, one of the best jjimjilbongs we have visited is located in Busan.

Anyone who visits Korea and does not visit SpaLand in Shinsegae is doing a great disservice to your Korean experience. This place reminds me of how kings and queens must have lived. What we didn’t expect was for it to be so different from any other jjimjilbong we have visited. It has a variety of different baths and so many different saunas. Within your four hours, you can watch a movie in the DVD room on huge recliners, watch TV in the relaxation room, enjoy the sun from the indoors, go outside in the freezing cold and be warmed by stepping into a bath of hot water and you can experience all types of saunas to relax in or even take a nap. They have snack bars everywhere and you can pay with your key! Your ticket to pure relaxation will cost you 12,000 won for a visit on a weekday, 14,000 won on Saturday or Sunday with a 4-hour limit.

Meeting area for men and women

In the bathing area you’ll start to notice the stark beauty and opulence of the place with many small baths, each of a different temperature. In the center of the room is the naturally-fed hot springs. One is sodium chloride (salt, benefiting the muscles and joints, as well as other body systems), the second is sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, said to “improve beauty of the skin”). There is a massaging tub (38 degrees C), a cool tub (25 degrees C), a cold tub (18 degrees C) and four dry sauna rooms. After you are finished bathing with your respective gender, you can put on the provided clothes and go to the “Meeting Area,” where you can meet the other men or women. Below are the different saunas that you can experience:

Charcoal Room -참숯방

Ice Room – 아이스방 / 어름방

Yellow Ocher Room – Hwang-to / 황토방. Hot, but dry, comfortable.

Hammam Room – 하맘룸, meant to replicate a Turkish-style bath sauna.

Bali Room – 발리룸, an open area with soft reclining floor mattresses where you can congregate with your friends and loved ones and talk freely.

Pyramid room – angled walls for a relaxing mood.

Roman Room – 로만룸, replicates the feeling of a traditional Roman sauna room.

Body Sound Room – fake bamboo along the walls and raised platforms that vibrate with the bass of the calming background music.

Body Sound Room

Wave Dream Room- place to lay along the sides, and from the middle lights are reflected through water waves for a meditative, colorful view on the ceiling.

SEV Room – therapeutic ions emitted into semi-private, wooden 2-seater benches lit by dim colored lights.

Relaxation Room – an amazing 3-tiered arc-shaped space with reclining leather chairs together in pairs, each one equipped with its own mini TV!

Spaland also includes a massage and therapy room, nail salon, cafe and beverages, a restaurant, DVD, PC and business rooms. This is one of our favorite Korean experiences and we highly recommend making the trip to Shinsegae Department Store in Busan, the largest department store in the world.

After a few months of living in Korea, we are beginning to learn about the Korean way of life. Everyday we learn a little bit more on how Koreans enrich their lives by incorporating healthy habits in their lifestyle. When will the rest of the world catch on?

How to get there. Take line 2 on the subway toward Heaundae and stop at Centum City, exit 12. Spaland is on the first floor next to Prada in the Shinsegae Department Store in Busan, South Korea. Click here to see a map.

Hiking as a Pastime

9 12 2009

The food is only one part of the equation on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The geography of Korea is 70 percent mountainous. What do people do when their country is covered with mountains? They go hiking! Because hiking is such a popular sport, Korea has many hiking clubs that offer weekly group outings for its members. Sunday is the biggest day for hiking because most people work Monday through Saturday. Unless you like crowds, avoid the mountains on Sundays! This is especially true during the autumn, when the entire country goes to admire the changing colors of the leaves.

In addition to hiking, the mountains or any park in Korea will have work out stations. This was a blessing when we first got here because we didn’t know have a gym membership. These work out stations are essentially like weight rooms in a gym or fitness club. They usually include a place to do sit-ups or crunches, standing push-ups and stretching machines. Some nicer parks or mountains will have all kinds of machines like weight machines that you use to lift your own weight, ellipticals, a bench press, a large hoola hoop and much, much more.

“It’s Good for your Health”

8 12 2009

by Randy Pulayya

After a few months in Korea, it became apparent that people love to take care of themselves. It doesn’t matter where you live in the world it is always important to spend time taking care of yourself. Everything from what we eat and drink to products that we put into our body has a lasting effect and will catch up to you in the end. The next three posts will give you an idea of how Koreans are so health conscious.

Korean food is much healthier than American food. It has less fat and more vegetables. One of the first things that we recognized in Korea is that there are very few obese people. Koreans always say “it’s good for your health.” It’s true. All of their food, if cooked and prepared properly is good for you. Their diet consists of everything from beef, pork, chicken, fish, octopus, squid, tofu, kimchi, cabbage, radish, collard mustards, lettuce, onions, ginger, ginseng root, other types of herbal roots and of course rice and noodles.

A Korean meal consists of a main dish, banchan (side dishes) and soup. The main dish is typically a fish or meat item. Banchan, or side dishes, includes kimchi, pickled cucumbers, pickled radish, white radish, tofu, etc. (There are countless items that can be included in the category.) At the end of the meal, you have to ask for soup. The most common soup is called doenjang jjigae (된장찌개), which is made from soy bean paste. Doenjang is a traditional Korean food that is fermented from soy beans. It has been a fixture of the Korean diet since the beginning of time. Recently, it has received great attention from western medicine for its nutritional and medicinal value. Doenjang is effective in preventing cancer. Soybeans, the main ingredient of doenjang, contain high quality proteins in the form of amino acid, which aid in digestion.

After three months, I have lost more than 16 pounds! I came to Korea and wanted to lose between 5-10 pounds but without even trying, I lost even more. I accomplished this by just eating the food and walking 20 minutes to and from work everyday. This is proof that Korean food is so much healthier than American food.

Hyundai Tigers and Mobis Phoebus

7 12 2009

Attending a sports event in Korea is definitely an experience. Of course, you’ll have the hardcore fans, the pride of a city and a good sports team or a not-so-good sports team, but what is different about going to a sports event in Korea is the entertainment and cheering props.

Our first weekend here, we went to a soccer game; Ulsan Hyundai Tigers versus Busan I’Park. The game took place at Munsu Stadium (AKA Big Crown Stadium), site of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The stadium wasn’t full on that Sunday night, but the fans made up for it. Instead of a marching band, they had huge drums that filled the stadium with a roaring sound. The soccer team didn’t have cheerleaders and the halftime show was a surprise. They had women dressed in some sort of traditional Hindi/belly dancing costume and belly danced for a few minutes. Then, little did we know that we were sitting next to the fireworks set up! Huge fireworks shot to the sky and the ashes and remains fell on us. The only time there are fireworks for halftime shows in America are for the Super Bowl. Koreans go all out for things that seem so minute to us.

A basketball game is something to experience as well. A few weeks ago, the Ministry of Education (MOE) set up a semi-sports day for the foreign teachers. We went a gym at an elementary school and played basketball, foot volleyball, hoola-hooped, had a three-legged race and pretty much played like 7 year olds again.

After our day of games and prizes, we went to the Ulsan Mobis Phoebus basketball game. As we walked in the stadium, we could feel the energy of the fans. The basketball players were as tall as ever but the cheerleaders were very unique. Their uniforms didn’t even match those of the basketball players. They wore hot pink tops and skirts with high-top white shoes. After half-time, they changed their clothes to white t-shirts and a pleated jean skirt. They had fake eyelashes and held their pom poms loosely. The MOE scheduled a photo shoot with the cheerleaders after the game, but we haven’t seen the pictures yet. We had a special section for all of the teachers. They gave us their version of hand clappers, two long balloons that make a lot of noise when you bang them together.

The major difference I noticed at the basketball game was when the players started to play. If Ulsan had the ball, they would play loud music until the other team had the ball. In America, it’s okay to cheer while the game is going on, but it is disrespectful to play music while the teams are playing. Sometimes, I didn’t even know they had started a new play because the music was so loud. But, Ulsan won! And we got more prizes! I won a ferry ride from Busan to Jeju Island.