Friday, May 22, 2009

April Showers Bring May Snow Storms

I was pretty happy to be leaving Korea in May.  Not because I wanted to get out of Korea, but because I have heard Korean summers are hot and sticky.

When I left Korea the temperature was in the high twenties.  Here is a picture of what I came back to.

Thanks Canada.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Episode 65: DFM Go Home

Well, all things must come to an end, and sadly today I had to fly back home to Canada.

My plane did not leave until 5:15 PM, which thankfully gave me some time to pack up all my things and clean my room.  

In hindsight, I should have done some cleaning the other four weeks I stayed at my place.  For the four weeks I have lived in my second gosiwon room, I do not think I cleaned up my floor once.  Now I have about ten cereal boxes and five empty milk jug containers scattered around the room, which is to say that I have a carpet made of cereal boxes and milk jugs.

When I originally came to Korea I had one carry on bag, and one suitcase that weighed in at 48 lbs.   When I had finished packing everything up for the flight home though, I had one carry on bag, another white garbage bag with all of my clothes in it which I would also carry on the plane, and one suitcase that weighed 75 lbs and cost me an extra $100 to load on the plane.

One last note should be made here about Korean efficiency.  I was in and out of security and immigration at the airport in well under five minutes.  I am definitely going to miss that when I got back home.

The plane ride back was quite pleasant (apart from the horrible movie selection) and quick too (I slept for most of it), but the domestic flights area of the Vancouver International Airport is nowhere near as nice as the international flights area I remember from my way too Korea.  

At the airport I had finally made it to the front of the line at the Customs area when I realized that I had forgotten all of my clothes on the plane in the overhead compartment.  I ran back to the plane only to find it was closed.  A woman there phoned someone who phoned someone else and a wild goose chase ensued for my clothes involving five different people.   Eventually my clothes came back to me, and I was able to continue on with my trip.  It must be said that airport staff in Canada are about 1000 times nicer than airport staff in any of the major American airports to which I've been.

When I finally got back to the Edmonton International Airport I was surprised by how normal everything felt.  I had listened to Canadians in Korea who told me they had felt culture shock coming home for the first time after staying in Korea for a while, but I guess two months is not long enough to completely lose your sense of home.

There were a few instances of minor culture shock in reverse though.  I had become so accustomed to reaching for money and everything else with "two hands" in Korea that I felt odd only using one hand again.  Also, every time I met a new person back home I wanted to say "반갑습니다", but had to  catch myself since the person would not have a clue what I was saying.

I wish I was still in Korea, but sadly this post concludes the most amazing two months of my life to date.  I would like to thank all of the wonderful people I met in Korea who appear in this blog (and any who don't), as well as all of my readers in Korea, Canada, or otherwise, who have been following along.  Keep reading The Kindergarten Cop for updates on my new website and any new adventures for DFM.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Episode 64: In Which DFM Falls Back Into Old Habits And Says Some More Good-Byes

Today was supposed to be a rest day in which I packed up my things and said good-bye to everyone.  As per the norm with this trip though, things just could not be that easy.  

My boss phoned me earlier in the week and told me that he needed me to come back into work one more day to show the new guy what I had been doing, so back to work I went one more time.

Today was actually a fun day though, and many of the classes went outside to do their work because the weather was so nice.  I tried to just relax and play with the kids, but my teacher instincts soon kicked in and I found myself back to being "Canada teacher!" (캐나다 선생님 for my Korean readers.)

It was neat to finally get to see Seth ("Australia teacher!").  Seth was actually the person I had filled in for originally when I first started teaching back in March, and at the time many of the children thought I was Seth.  To see both of us together threw some of them for a real loop, and Seth had some fun by telling everyone that he was from Canada and I was from Australia.

I wasn't sure how the kids would react to seeing me again after I had already told them I was leaving, but it was business as usual.  And by business as usual I mean playing "change the colour of the crayon inside of the plastic holder and then try to get DFM to guess the colour before laughing hysterically at him."  Oh, great fun.

Of course I had to go back to Summit and say good-bye to everyone there as well.  This time I met another new friend named Kyu-rhang.  For those of you who think she looks like all of my other friends, look closer.  Kyu-rhang has black hair and brown eyes, whereas my other Korean friends have brown eyes and black hair.

I also had to say good-bye to Hyeun-A.  Lee had made her pay for my KFC meal on our first date, so this time I decided to do the Korean thing and pay for her meal.  She hates coming to Itaewon, but she made an exception tonight because I said there was a fantastic ice cream shop near my place.  Hyeun-A gave me a letter afterwards, but said it was all in Korean so I would not be able to read it unless I studied my Korean very hard when I went back to Canada.

I went to bed wishing I had another week in Korea, and wishing I had gotten a chance to say good-bye to everyone else as well.

Episode 63: In Which DFM Stares In To The Eyes Of A Giraffe And Uncovers The Secret Of The Sloth

The zoo at Seoul Grand Park is 196 000 square meters, and I saved it until the end of my journey because it is one of the experiences in Seoul I had been most highly anticipating.

Everything about the zoo at Seoul Grand Park is huge.  Before you even enter the zoo you are greeted by an enormous statue of a tiger.  Compare the size of the tiger to the gardener working in front to see what I mean.

Once inside the zoo I found a map that showed four separate paths around the zoo which would take you to all the exhibits.  I walked the length of the zoo four times to see all the animals, and it took me over 6 hours.

My favourite animals at the zoo were the giraffes.  I have not seen a giraffe before, and I was not prepared for just how tall they really are.

To get this eye-to-eye shot I was standing on what I estimate estimate was a fifteen foot platform.  Staring straight at this giraffe made me feel all tingly with excitement.

The animals were tingling with excitement too.  It must be mating season, because all the males were puffing out their chests and trying to show off for the ladies.  Unfortunately for the males, I think someone forgot to tell the females what time of year it was.  These two peacocks just could not get any peahen to notice them and I saw a male wolf get bitten for his efforts to try and seduce a female.

I know what you're all thinking.  You're thinking, "wow, that looks just like the skull of a Pygmy Hippopotamus."  I have such smart readers.

How many times in your life do you get to see a Giant Galapagos Turtle?  The Galapagos Turtle is the largest living species of tortoise in the world.

I used to wonder how two-toed sloths could hang upside down all day long.  The secret is out.  It's not quite as impressive anymore though, if I say so myself.

At one point I saw a sign that read "Ant Park," but the park was closed.  Later I found this feller and I figured out why.

Canada's contribution.

Creepy-crawly things are always interesting.

How many human babies do you think this bear has eaten today?

If you got bored of looking at all the beautiful animals, you can always look at the beautiful trees in any number of fabulous rest locations around the zoo.  This pond was once part of a set for a major Korean movie a sign informed me.

I, however, did not do any sitting until the end of my day when I went to see the dolphin/seal show.  I was skeptical, but I purchased my $3.00 ticket anyways.  Instead of being disappointed though, I was blown away.  The seals could dance "the twist" and do comedy routines, and the dolphins were as smart as you'd expect them to be and could hit red balls dangling fifteen to twenty feet over the water (you can see them in the picture).  Just before I took this picture the dolphins dropped under the water and disappeared, but the woman in the water was actually surfing on the head of one of them at one point during the show.  Anyone in/near Seoul needs to check out the zoo at Seoul Grand Park even if it's only to see this show.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Episode 62: In Which DFM Falls 25 Feet And Has A Party Thrown For Him

Today I was planning to meet Choi, Ji-Hyeun, and the rest of Ace for a trip to one of Seoul's many large outdoor climbing walls.  Unfortunately, Choi and Ji-Hyeun had worked so hard over the last five days completely stripping the climbing wall of holds and rearranging them that they were too tired to go climbing today.  Coincidentally and fortuitously, Perry had told me that he was planning on going to an outdoor climbing wall today too, and so just like our first hiking trip I asked if I could tag along and off I went on another adventure.

Before I met Perry I had to catch up on some e-mails and unwritten blog posts that were piling up because of my trip.  While I was working in my room the fire alarm started screaming in my building.  I didn't really feel like leaving though, so I just hung around and kept typing.  Everything turned out to be fine though, and ten minutes later the alarm was turned off.

The climbing wall to which Perry and I went was located in Boramae Park.  Boramae Park used to be an air force base from 1958 until 1985, when it was converted into a 420 000 square meter park.

Today (Tuesday, May 5) was Children's Day in Korea, a national holiday.  That meant the park (and probably every other park) was packed with children and their parents.  In some places I saw people sitting on the pathway to eat their lunch because there was no room on the grass.

There were many activities going on in the park, the most impressive of which was put on by the emergency rescue service which gave helicopter rescue demonstrations and tours of their fire trucks.  Unlike Canada though, the question "what's the number for 9-1-1?" isn't so stupid in Korea (look at the fire truck).

The Boramae Park climbing wall is 15 meters high and is overhung everywhere, even the easiest section.  I'm not sure if it was used for any X-Games climbing, but I know that some facilities in the area were used for an X-Games competition and have ample signage to remind visitors of that fact.

The Boramae Park climbing wall is managed by the woman in the yellow shirt, who also happens to be the number one climber in Korea for her age group.  Perry said she sometimes climbs in the evening when it is cooler, and once climbed up and down the wall 20 times in a row without stopping.  Perry was belaying for her at the time and said his arm pumped out from belaying before she even started to get tired.

Luckily Perry had brought some grapes and break along for lunch, because I had forgot to pack one for myself.  Actually, I did not forget, I just did not have any food at home.

After "warming up" (or was that tiring ourselves out?) on the medium difficulty wall, Perry and I tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to climb to the top of the most difficult section of the wall in the middle.

Later, one of the top climbers at Ace Climbing Center came to the outdoor wall and easily climbed up the most difficult wall... twice.  He told me that I had the strength to get up the wall, but I did not have the confidence.  That information didn't really help me that much though, as I still fell off in the same spot the next two times.

By mid-afternoon a large number of visitors to the park had gathered to watch all the climbers.  Anyone who made it to the top of the wall received a round of applause.  Although I was not able to make it to the top while the crowd was there, I did take a spectacularly large fall of roughly 25 feet which garnered quite a few "oohs" and "ahhs," not to mention a good number of gasps as well (I was only 35 feet up, so I came relatively close to the ground).

After climbing, Perry invited me back to his place for a "party" in honour of my last week in Korea.  His wife only arrived home from her hiking trip five minutes after we walked in the door, but she is the fastest cook in the world and had a delicious feast on the table in under ten minutes.

After the party Perry showed me back to the subway station, but not before we said good-bye to his friend from the health food store.  Upon being told that it was my last week in Korea, his friend frantically looked around the shop for something to give me before finding a box of Korean ginseng tea (this was the item he was holding in the picture I took of him the first time I met him).  It was a touching gesture, and indicative of how much Koreans care for people they consider their friends.  I once again felt that I would miss Korea very much when I left.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Episode 61: In Which DFM Has His Camera Stolen And Takes The Long Way Home

I woke up early again, but this time the sky was a bright clear blue.

The amazing view from my balcony this morning.  The sky may look white instead of blue to you, but that is only because the sun was so bright.  Plus, in the view from the third picture I could see the sea from my balcony.  It's hard to see it in the picture, but if you look closely you can just make it out at the top of the shot.

Today was the last day of my amazing tour of Korea with April.  So, before I had to head back to Seoul we all went out for one last lunch.  This time it was halibut, so I was happy to finally have a meal I half-recognized (we have halibut in Canada, right?).

I just had to get some good shots of the beach with the clear sky, so Jee-seon and I ran off for a bit while her mother and April sat and waited for us in front of a table full of food (sorry Sun Hee and April, I forgot how much quicker Korean service is than Canadian service).

The second picture is probably the best picture of a sky I have been able to take in the two months I have spent here.

Before Jee-seon and I headed back to the restaurant, I noticed that my camera was missing.  I had put my camera in its case, and placed it on the rocks (which were the same colour as the case) while I used Jee-seon's DSLR for a while.  When I went to get my camera again I could not find it anywhere.  I started to get quite scared that I had lost all the pictures I had taken on the trip, but eventually Jee-seon "magically" found my camera.  It turned out it that it had been hiding behind her back the whole time!  I still have not forgotten about that Jee-seon, and I'm still going to get you back the next time I'm in Korea.  Ha!

This is one of my favourite pictures I have taken in the last two months.  Would you believe I took this picture out of the opposite window of a moving vehicle, with a point-and-shoot low-end digital camera?  I still can't believe it myself either.

For my trip back to Seoul I got to experience the Saemaul train.  This train is the only plane, train or bus in which I have ridden where the foot rests were adjustable - classy.

The trip back to Seoul from Ulsan was much more scenic than my trip to Busan from Seoul for my shark diving trip.  The KTX tracks always seemed to run through the industrial areas of whatever towns/cities they passed, so I was rarely able to get a nice view when I rode the KTX train.  However, the Saemaul tracks took me on a slow journey through the Korean countryside where I was able to see a part of Korea I never knew existed.  So, even though the trip may have taken over five hours I enjoyed every second of it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Episode 60: In Which DFM Finds An Outhouse With Its Own Temple And Eats So Much Seafood He Starts To Waddle

I woke up in a panic today.  The temperature inside my room was very hot (28 degrees was the reading on the thermostat) and I thought for sure I had slept in 'til the afternoon.

In actuality it was not the afternoon it was 6 in the morning.  After eating some breakfast I decided to pass the time until everyone else got up by going for a walk around the luxury golf resort at which we were staying.  It had rained the night before, so there was a cool mist in the air and everything looked especially green.

While on my walk I saw four ten year old boys playing basketball and a rather humorous situation broke out.  One of the boys began double-dribbling quite badly.  A second boy started yelling at him (in Korean), and I guessed that he was telling him to stop double-dribbling.  Shortly after this a boy on the other team started doubling dribbling and the boy who originally double-dribbled yelled at him to stop double-dribbling (again, in Korean).  The second boy came over and shoved him and started yelling at him, which I took to mean that he was telling him to stop being such a hypocrite.  The whole situation reminded me of when I was that age and I threw a basketball at a girl's head because she wasn't paying attention on the court.

After lunch at Jee-seon's home in Ulsan, we headed to the beach.  Ulsan is located very close to the East Sea - between Korea and Japan - and while it is not technically the Pacific Ocean, it was close enough for me (same water).

After visiting the beach we drove back towards Gyeongju, to the mountain Unjesan.

I know it looks nice, but that's not a temple in the foreground it's a really smelly outhouse.

After a shady hike up Mt. Unjesan we came to an unnamed temple.  Of all the temples I've seen this one had the nicest looking buildings.

Back near the outhouse we found another temple, Oeosa (pronounced "Oo-oh-sa").  Everything was still decorated for the Buddha's Birthday season, which meant hundreds of lanterns.  Each one had a candle inside and at night some poor soul probably has to walk along and light them all.

This is probably the best looking pagoda I've seen anywhere in Korea.  I love the blue roof.

The pagoda was not just notable for its blue roof though.  Inside it housed Korea's oldest bronze bell, Oeosadongjong.  Built in 1281, Oeosadongjong had been lost for many decades, perhaps centuries, before the severe draught of 1995 though dried up a nearby river where the bell was found lying at the bottom.

Baby Buddha's Belly! 귀엽다

After a long day of sightseeing, April, Sun Hee, Jee-seon and I went out to a seaside restaurant for some sashimi.  Sashimi is very fresh raw seafood.  The meal I had featured a crab platter, a shrimp platter, a sliced raw fish platter that was humongous, and a large serving of maeuntang ("may-oon-tang").  

Maeuntang features fish that is boiled with various vegetables and then doused in both chili pepper and Korean red chili pepper paste (because one hot condiment wasn't enough).

After eating the maeuntang, Sun Hee filled the pot with the remaining raw fish to turn them into half-cooked spicy fish.  I was over filled by this point, but the half-cooked spicy fish was delicious so I kept stuffing it down.

After dinner my leg had cramped/locked up quite badly from sitting cross-legged for four courses.  I must have looked quite silly as I waddled back to the car, but I didn't care.

Episode 59: In Which DFM Visits A Museum Without Walls And Plays With His Food At The Dinner Table

Day 3 of my trip called for another early morning rise and a train trip to Gyeongju.  Before I left I said my good-byes to Mr. and Mrs. Kim and Mr. Kim's parents.  I also try out my new Korean phrase, "I will miss you," which prompted Mr. Kim's mother to call me "sweet."

Today (Saturday, May 2) is Buddha's Birthday in Korea.  When I ordered the tickets last week there was only one spot left on the KTX train for this day and it was in First Class.  What a pity.

I was excited to see what a first class train ride would be like, but unfortunately it was a bit disappointing.  There was so much leg room that my feet could not reach the foot rests no matter how far I stretched, which was rather uncomfortable.  Furthermore, the seat in front of me was so far away that the fold down tray was out of my reach and so I had to bend over awkwardly to use it.  This was not the most comfortable position either.  

On the plus side, I could get out of the seat without putting the tray up and, with the combination of an a/c unit that actually worked and 25% less people in the car (only three seats per row instead of 4), I made it all the way to my destination without feeling like I had been sitting in a pool of sweat the whole way.

Part way through the trip, I had to switch from the KTX train to the much less glamorous, or speedy, Mugungwha train (astute readers will remember that Mugungwha is also the name of Korea's national flower).  

At least the scenery at the platform where I disembarked was nice.

Eventually April and I got to Gyeongju.  I originally took this picture because I thought it looked pretty, but upon reviewing my pictures later I realized that I had actually learned the meaning of the sign on the left during my trip (in an unrelated incident).  The writing in the red circles on the pillar reads "hwan-yong," which means "welcome!"

After trying to find a reliable form of transport (the buses we needed were not coming around at an acceptable interval for two impatient Seoulites), April and I took a cab to meet her friend, Sun-hee and her friend's daughter, Jee-seon.

The four of us went to a traditional Korean restaurant, at which to enter we had to squeeze through a door only five feet high.  We tried not to bump our heads ("try" being the operative term), and were rewarded for our troubles with a delicious meal of spicy barbecued chicken and ddeok in a some sort of hot sauce.  Actually, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that this is the same meal I ate with my boss on Thursday before I got paid and left for this trip.

After lunch we all drove over to Bulguksa.  Bulguksa is a Buddhist temple ("sa" means temple) built in the wooded foothills of beautiful Tohamsan ("san" means mountain in Korean, so Tohamsan translates to Toham Mountain).  Many invading countries liked to arrest Buddhist monks, so the monks often built their temples in the mountains to hide from enemy armies.

Bulguksa was built roughly 1480 years ago in AD 528, during the Shila dynasty.  Unfortunately, the Japanese appear to like burning down temples more than the monks like hiding them up in the mountains, and so Bulguksa also had to be rebuilt after the 1592 Invasion of Korea by Japan (the second temple this trip).

In 1995 UNESCO (a branch of the United Nations) declared Bulguksa a World Cultural Heritage site.  Bulguksa contains no less than seven National Treasures, and it is also located in the most beautiful place I've ever seen, and is reached by Korea's best driving road (that's the most important thing though, isn't it?)  Bulguksa is often referred to as "a museum without walls."

Before you can reach the temple, you must walk over this bridge (behind the trees).  The bridge is called Haetalgyo, and it represents the crossing from the sin filled world to the realm of bliss - Nirvana.

Every reader has seen the giant rock piles from my hiking trip with Perry, right?  Here we have hundreds of tiny rock piles built by visitors behind one of the temple buildings.  There must have been a lot of praying here.

Of the seven National Treasures, these were my two favourite.  The first is Seokgatap, a classic Korean pagoda of superior quality.  The second is Cheongungyo and Baegungyo, which combine to make a massive 33-step stone staircase that represents the 33 heavens and hells of Buddhism.

After a wonderful exploration of Bulguksa, we all went out for yet more spicy Korean food.  This time the meal was a spicy bowl of soup containing a number of vegetables and a whole fish, merely gutted, but not deboned or beheaded.  Lucky me, I got the fish head again.  It had received a debraining, but I was still able to play with its mouth.  In hindsight, I think perhaps playing with one's fish head at the dinner table is not something that Korean dining etiquette encourages.