Chuc Mung Nam Moui!

6 03 2010

It was hard to top our first anniversary celebrations, which was in Ireland. But Randy pulled it off. We didn’t get to go to a different country, but we spent the weekend in Seoul. Our anniversary falls on the day before Valentine’s Day and apparently this year, the day before Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year or Tet [in Vietnam] or Seollal [in Korea]). Chinese New Year is on a different day each year. But this year, we were lucky to have three full days to celebrate these holidays and a very special occasion.

During Chinese New Year or Seollal, which is what the Koreans call it, Koreans spend time with their families. The holiday is similar to Chuseok. Families get together, cook traditional foods and pay respects to their ancestors and elders. Chuseok and Seollal are similar to our Thanksgiving and Christmas. But, it’s also similar to one childhood memory, Tet, which is what the Vietnamese call Chinese New Year. We did all of these things, but would also receive “pockets,” or red envelopes with money inside for good luck from our elders. Although I didn’t receive any “pockets” this year, I received a great weekend with my favorite person in the world and good friends.

Because our anniversary was in between two major trips this year (Vietnam and Japan), we needed to save money. It’s somewhat hard to do in Seoul, but I think we accomplished it and also had star treatment. We arrived on a Friday night as usual and stayed in a jjimjilbang or sauna. Although the overnight jjimjilbangs are nothing like Spa Land in Busan where you cannot stay overnight (click here to see the entry about Spa Land). In Seoul, we stayed at the Hamilton Spa, which is located in the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon. It costs about 10,000 won ($8 USD) per person per night, which is a lot cheaper than even the love motels, which costs around 35,000 to 80,000 won ($70 USD) per night. You get a shirt and shorts and a blanket to sleep on the heated floors. It’s definitely an experience to try once. We’ve slept at a jjimjilbang several times though, mostly in Busan at Vesta Spa.

After a refreshing early morning spa and sauna, we checked into the star treatment hotel that Randy picked out. Hotel Elle Inn, although tucked away from the main street and standing out from all of the other buildings, was a little treasure. The room wasn’t massive, but the details and Jacuzzi were amazing. For a really nice hotel, the price tag wasn’t too terrible. It would probably be around $200 in the states, but this hotel was only about $100 USD per night. He also surprised me by picking out a place with a beautiful night view of Seoul. We had dinner in the Jongno Building on the 33rd floor at a restaurant called “Top Cloud.” But the most surprising event was that Randy had his first steak! I was so proud of him. Of course, from working at the American Meat Institute, I know how to enjoy a good steak, and I’m glad that Randy and I could enjoy the same entree that night. It’s really great to get to see each other grow as a person while in a foreign country, whether it’s with trying different types of food, interacting with people or learning both from each other.

As we keep learning from each other and seeing each other grow as a person, we continue to learn about Korea as a country. The War Memorial of Korea is a place we need to revisit. It’s a museum that shows the 5,000-year-old history of how Korea has with stood many foreign invasions. There is also a magnificent display of how the world came together to help South Korea during one of the most tragic wars in history, the Korean War. What’s best about this museum is that it’s free. It’s a five minute walk from Samgakji Subway station, near Itaewon.





When in Beijing

28 01 2010

We only had four days off for New Year’s, so we decided to go to Beijing with Kangsan Travel. We were hesitant about spending our vacation with a tour group, but it turned out to be a fun and fulfilling trip. As soon as we got off the plane, our fabulous tour guide, Charley, greeted us at airport. Charley, a Chinese man who had studied English in England, made the tour informative and extremely fun. We were able to do more than we could have done on our own.

Our first meal in China was very appropriate for the frigid weather that we faced. We went to a rustic temple restaurant where we had a traditional Hot Pot. It is commonly known as a Chinese fondue or steamboat. It is a mixture of lamb or pork and a variety of vegetables and is cooked in a hot pot of broth at the table. It’s guaranteed to warm anyone on a cold winter day.

Next, we headed to watch a traditional Chinese Acrobatic show. The performers were probably younger than 25 years old. When you go to Beijing be sure to stop by and experience an amazing show that teaches you more about the culture of China.

After a full day of traveling and sightseeing, we still decided to bring in the New Year’s, Beijing style! We partied in one of the hottest nightclubs that Beijing has to offer. VICS Club is located near Worker’s Stadium and is a haven for trendy locals who love to have a good time. It’s like two clubs in one with all kinds of great music. The DJs played hip hop, dance and club music. This was an unforgettable New Year. After 2am we decided to go to the hotel because we needed to get up by 8am to start our first adventure of the New Year by climbing the Great Wall of China. But, we couldn’t go back to Holiday Inn Lido Hotel without a hot dog!

The Great Wall of China

Climbing the Great Wall of China was amazing. Many people live their entire life wanting to make a trip to one of the wonders of the world and we were very excited to check the Great Wall off our list of “Things to do before I die.” The Great Wall of China is one of the cornerstones of Chinese culture. It’s one of the largest military walls in all of history and served to protect the early Chinese empire from hostile enemies. The Great Wall of China has been around for nearly 2000 years and still stands today as a wonderful architectural beauty. The Ming Dynasty built the Great Wall of China. It was built of stone, wood and bricks to keep enemies away. If you get a chance to climb this great wonder of the world, do it! Click here to find out more about the history of the Great Wall of China.

Summer Palace is a famous classic imperial garden with breathtaking views. In the wintertime you can go ice-skating on the frozen lake. The Summer Palace is a must see when you head to Beijing.

Tinanmen Square

Tiananmen Square is the largest city square in the world and it can hold up to 10 million people at one time! It is a symbol of China, as it sits in the center of Beijing and displays the Tinanmen Tower, the Great Hall and Mao Zedong’s memorial. It has been the site of many historical events, among which was a gathering of pro-democracy protesters in 1989. The protest lasted for six weeks after the leader of China who supported economic and political reform passed away. Protesters were mostly students who wanted economic change and democratic reform. The protest ended when hundreds of these protesters were killed by government troops in the streets. Click here to learn more about Tiananmen Square.

Behind Mao Zedong’s memorial laid the Forbidden City. Built in the 15th Century and consisting of 980 surviving buildings, the Forbidden City has been named a World Heritage Site and listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden buildings. The Forbidden City is an amazing and enormous place. We were lucky to see the Forbidden City in snow.

The Forbidden City

But what is even larger than the Forbidden City is the Temple of Heaven. It is the largest group of structures in the country dedicated to rituals that pay homage to heaven. This temple was built specifically for the worship of heaven and prayers for good harvests during the time of the Ming and Qing dynasties. As we walked around I really thought that this name of the temple was very appropriate for this magnificent structure. But another interesting site near the Temple of Heaven wasn’t a structure; it was the park outside of the temple that was filled with elderly people enjoying life. They were singing, dancing, playing music and games. It was amazing to see the joy in these people’s lives with the even the simplest things.

Temple of Heaven

Shopping in China is an adventure in itself. If you don’t know how to bargain, stay home. For example if you’re looking to buy a tea set, the price starts at 500 Chinese Yuan. The game starts by going back and forth. I really enjoyed shopping in China because it involved a lot of acting and body language. After five minutes of going back and forth I was able to buy the same tea set for 50 Chinese Yuan, which is equivalent to $7.30. At the end even though I did a great job bargaining, I accepted that I still got ripped off. Everything in the world is made from China and it is quite amazing to see the people sell their products.

After traveling around the world, China stands out. There is something special about this unique and beautiful country. The food, diversity, culture and people of China are great. With more than 1.3 billion people living in China and 56 different dialects of the Chinese language, I think we have our work cut out for us as Americans. China is on the brinks of being the next superpower nation in the world. We would like to thank Kangsan travel and all of our friends who made this trip very special. Xing Nian Kwai le (Happy New Year)!





Christmas in Korea

25 01 2010

Busan

It’s a little hard to tell that it’s Christmas in Korea. There were a few Christmas lights and Christmas trees in Ulsan, but if you wanted to see a lot of lights and feel the Christmas spirit, you had to go to Busan or Seoul. Kosin (pronounced koshin) University in Busan had their first Christmas Tree Festival where they had millions of lights around the Christian campus.  Kosin University is on Yeongdo island in Busan. Take the subway to Nampodong, where the shopping street is filled with Christmas lights, and jump in a taxi and say Yeongdo, which is the name of the island, and then say Kosin taehakyo, which is the name of the university. You’ll be amazed!

Seoul

Another way to celebrate Christmas in Korea is Santacon in Seoul. Apparently, Santacon happens in other major cities around the world. I had never heard of it until we moved to Korea. Hundreds of people dressed up in Santa Claus outfits and bar hopped all night. They even had a map of which bars they would go to and at an exact time. But with hundreds of Santas, there was no way that they would all stay together. It was definitely an experience and great to see everyone in the Christmas spirit.

YongPyong

But, the best way to celebrate Christmas in Korea is with the friends you’ve made to be almost like family. We went skiing at Yongpyong Resort in Gangwando province and had a little Christmas celebration of our own. It didn’t quite feel like Christmas until later because we had to catch a 3am bus from Busan to make the 5-hour trek to Yongpyong. We weren’t lucky to have a school that let us off on Christmas Eve. But the odd hours paid off. We received a 40 percent discount on the lift and ski rentals for that day! As we arrived, it definitely felt like Christmas with all of the snow and a few close friends to be around. Although, we missed opening gifts on Christmas morning, we had a nice Christmas dinner in the hostel and a Secret Santa gift party. Another plus to spending time with great people was that we got to see some of the scenes from the first Korean drama that we saw, Winter Sonata. The resort had pictures and cardboard cut outs of the famous drama everywhere, at the bottom and top of the mountain. We missed our families dearly but we’re thankful that we were able to celebrate Christmas with great people at a beautiful place.





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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Celebrity Status

5 11 2009
Celebrities in Ulsan

Randy is the real celebrity here, I just look like everyone else. ^^

Superstars. We are like superstars in Korea! Well, Randy is more of a celebrity than I am because I look like everyone here. He gets the stares and the random “I love you” from strangers. When we are walking together, you can imagine what people are thinking. They’re not used to seeing an interracial couple because it’s just not that diverse here. But, they seem to accept it, especially because Randy is so friendly and likes to say hello and be very respectful to the elders. Koreans usually respond positively.

But, nonetheless, I still have that celebrity status at my school. Most students are very friendly and respectful that I come from a different country and try very hard to understand me and they try to speak English as much as they can. Other students don’t care as much and some are just rotten; these students are usually troublemakers anyway.

Though, sometimes students will mistake me for a Korean teacher and say “anyounhasayo” (hello in Korean) and bow, but then they realize that it’s me and I just hear them giggle and say “hello” quickly. Teachers expect students to greet them by bowing and saying hello.

Wrapped like a mummy

The trick was to "pick two students to wrap yourself like a mummy."

Hallowin Day. Last week we celebrated Halloween, which isn’t a big holiday here in Korea. They call it “Hallowin Day.” Although they sell Halloween costumes and decorations in some stores, not everyone celebrates it. It is more known among students who go to hagwons (private schools). They usually put on a big Halloween party or make a really scary haunted house for the students. But, I tried my best to cater to all 750 students in one week. I decorated my classroom with bats, ghosts, witches, black cats, etc. I played Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” at the beginning of class and then played a trick or treat game. They had to pick a piece of paper from a box and on that piece of paper were tricks, such as “howl like a wolf,” “fly on a broom like a witch” or “dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.” Once the performed the ‘trick,’ they could get a treat. It was very amusing to me and my co-teacher!

Frustration and Encouragement. With that said, our class is supposed to be the ‘fun’ class. So, sometimes it is hard to get students to pay attention. Teaching is different for everyone. But for me, it’s easier to have my co-teacher in class because they are really good at disciplining the kids. Sometimes they don’t understand what I am saying, so I think that is why they don’t listen. But on the other hand, they could very well know what I am saying and just don’t listen. I’ve found a couple of things that work well for me when the co-teacher isn’t in the class. I just stand there and glare at the students really hard to let them know that I am angry. I will also make them write sentences for the whole class period. How a teacher disciplines the students really depends on his or her personality.

Other than some of the frustrating and exhausting times, teaching in Korea has been very rewarding, especially when some students really want to learn more about you and try to speak English. And as we are learning more Korean, it’s becoming easier to communicate with our students and coworkers and therefore, forming long-lasting relationships, or at least making Korea more enjoyable each day.





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!