Monday, November 24, 2014

Fall in Korea

There are still beautiful colors on the trees here in Ulsan, South Korea, but they are starting to dwindle.  Winter is approaching!  I figured now is as good a time as any to show you Korea in the fall.

Festivals are popular at this time of year.  I've been to three this fall:  music festival, Muduhee Festival, and the Fireworks Festival.  I don't have pictures of the music festival (it was your typical music festival).  And, I don't have pictures of the Muduhee Festival (which is a tug-of-war festival, by the way).  But...I do have pictures of my walk home that day.  It was such a gorgeous day, I decided to make the 2+hour trek home along the river.  It was absolutely stunning...just see for yourself.

The other big festival was the Firework Festival in Busan.  It was a spectacular fireworks display off a bridge that lasted 50 minutes.  And, I was lucky enough to see it from the water on a boat.  That also allowed me to miss the crowd.  I got SCUBA certified this August by a couple who run their own business.  They organized a group to go out and watch the fireworks.  Check it out:

In addition to the festivals, there's just the amazing view of the leaves and the mountains that surround me.  Breathtaking and so peaceful!

The view from the front of my school...yes, I get to see this
every single school day!

Crows...a popular site along the Taewha River this time of year.

Loving the sights and views in my new home!  I feel so lucky to live with all this beauty surrounding me!!

BTW...check out my Facebook page if you want to see even more pics.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Amazing Hike at Sinbul Mountain!

Stylish Korean hiking apparel.
Although I have been hiking in Korea before, I feel like this was my first “true” hiking experience.  This hike took place at Sinbul Mountain, which is not a national park, or huge tourist attraction.  It’s more the type of place locals from Ulsan go to hike.  It is the second highest mountain in the Youngnam Alps located in the western part of Ulsan, South Korea, so there is some draw to the area. Where to begin to even describe my Korean hiking adventure?!?!

Me in my Korean
hiking attire.
I guess I should start off by saying that Koreans take their hiking VERY seriously.  That is obvious by the stylish hiking attire seen all around Korea – both on and off the trails.  I have even succumbed to the trend and bought some of my own hiking apparel.  And, I gotta admit, Koreans know what they are doing.  The hiking pants I have are the most comfortable thing I’ve ever hiked in!  It does seem a bit extreme to us Westerners that Koreans will cover themselves from head to toe…literally!  Long sleeves in the middle of summer, hat, gloves, and even face masks.  I’ve heard a few different theories about this and the most popular seem to be that they cover themselves to avoid exposure to the sun and use masks to avoid breathing in toxins from the air.  In any event, they are well protected from the elements.

The scene at lunch time.
In addition to hiking, Koreans take their food and alcohol very seriously.  This is evident on the trails.  All along the way, Koreans stopped to have a picnic lunch.  In the States, this usually means sitting on a rock and pulling out a sandwich and a few snacks from your back pack.  In Korea, lunch while hiking is a totally different story.  Koreans bring blankets and
Koreans enjoying quite the
spread of food.
picnic pads to sit on.  Some even bring small collapsible chairs.  And the spread of food is by no means basic 
sandwiches and snacks.  It is an all-out buffet of various side dishes and main courses.  And no meal in Korea is complete without an alcoholic beverage.  Options while hiking included beer, soju (popular Korean alcohol), and meokali (a popular rice wine).  I couldn’t imagine drinking alcohol while doing this hike! Another common site (and a bit unusal to the Westerner) is the random man selling popsicles from a cooler he carried up the mountain.

It’s safe to say that hiking is a very popular pastime in Korea.  As a result, there were TONS of people on the trail.  It was a national holiday so that is to be expected.  However, I’m used to crowds on the easier parts of trails in the States.  Usually, the crowds thin out as the trail gets more difficult.  Not in Korea…it was crowded the whole way…and it was DIFFICULT!  In fact, this hike goes down as one of the hardest, most dangerous, and most amazing hikes I’ve ever done.  Let me explain…

It was hard because it was up hill just about the whole way to the top – very limited straight paths to allow you to catch your breath.  There were stairs for some steep parts – for whatever reason, just about all Korean hikes involve stairs.  In addition, there were several spots that involved scrambling up rocks.  Some of the scrambling was such a steep grade that ropes were added for assistance.  For many of these parts, easy options were available to bypass the rocky surfaces, but where’s the fun in that?  Naturally, I had to take the ropes.  Now, let me explain why it was dangerous…

At one point, you hike along sharp edges of rock with steep slopes on your right and your left.  If you slipped or lost your footing, you would surely be in trouble.  I was shocked that there were no railings, chains, or ropes at this point.  I couldn’t imagine hikes like this in the States (Angels Landing in Zion National Park was close, but even it had chains).  But here in Korea, there were tons of people just scrambling along the sharp ridges.  Did I mention the course we took was called “Knife Rock” – it seemed like we were walking along the blade of a knife made of rock!  Once you made it through the rocky edges, there was the challenge of scaling up a rock surface.  Again, if you lost your grip or footing, you would be in trouble.  There were a few parts that actually made me nervous.  Had I been hiking this area with just a few friends, I may not have been so brave.  But, seeing all of these people scrambling over the rocks, gave me some confidence (it could have been a false sense of security, but it worked – I made it through).

So the challenge of the hike – both in terms of the difficulty and the precariousness – combined with the beautiful views made this one of the most amazing hikes I’ve ever done!  

Our outdoor cafe.

Pajeon and meokali
Oh...and the day ended with some pajeon and meokali at an "outdoor restaraunt" before we even left the path.  No need to look for a place to eat on the drive home!

I’m not proud to admit (but I will) that there were times when I saw where we had to go and how much was left and I kinda wanted to cry…just a little.  (Those of you who know me know that this is a powerful statement).  And, I’m not sure I’ll take on this hike again…I’d have to do some work to mentally prepare myself.  At the same time, I am SOOOOO glad I did this hike.  It was a truly FANTASTIC day!!!!!

Me and my Korean hiking buddy, Kim Won Jeong,
feeling accomplished at the end of our hike! 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

American-Style House Party

I recently introduced some of my Korean friends to an American-style house party.  Although common for us, it’s an unusual concept to Koreans for many reasons.  I think the biggest reason they don’t throw house parties is due to lack of private space.  Many Koreans live with their parents until they are married, so they don't exactly have a way to throw a house party for friends.  Another reason house parties are uncommon is due to the small apartments.  There are about 45 million people living in a country the size of Indiana that is 70% mountainous.  There isn’t a lot of space for large apartments and houses.  Most people live in high-rise apartments of modest size.  That includes me, so fitting 13 people in my tiny apartment was a bit of a challenge and required some rearranging, but it all worked out.

American style party foods were served: veggies and dip, chips and salsa, bean dips, chicken nuggets, and chips.  There was even a cooler for beer on my veranda (my fridge is way to small to hold the beer). 

Another unique part of the party for the Koreans was the mingling.  Many social outings for Koreans involve enjoying dinner together.  They are very social with the family-style meals, but they often stay at the table and only talk to those around them.  With this party, there were no tables and there was no sitting in one place.  Everyone was encouraged to move, mingle, and talk with different people.

And, of course, what house party would be complete without some drinking games.  Line dances even made an appearance…you know how I love the Cupid Shuffle and Wobble. 


Everyone had such a good time!  I can’t wait to do it again!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Summer Recap

Middle school starts back up tomorrow.  Figured it’s as good a time as any to update you on my summer.  My middle school had a summer break between July 23 and August 21.  This is a break between semesters, as opposed to a break between school years like in America.  During that month, I had seven days off per my contract.  For the other days, I worked at an English summer camp held at a local elementary school (I can actually see the school from my apartment).  Although I was working, it was a nice to change things up a bit.  And, I did manage to fit a lot in…

Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Enjoying the sunset in
Halong Bay!

I traveled to Vietnam for seven days with three other foreigners: an American, Canadian, and Kiwi (from New Zealand).  We had an awesome time!  We spent a night on a boat in Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was absolutely beautiful!  Being on the boat in the bay was so peaceful.  We spent some time on a beach, did some kayaking, and toured a cave.

The beautiful countryside of Sapa!
Loving the terraced
rice fields of Sapa.
After Halong Bay, it was an overnight trip on a train to get to Sapa.  The countryside of Sapa was breathtaking!  Trekking through the countryside was the highlight of the trip for me.  Just look at the pictures, and you’ll see why.

Another interesting thing about the trip was the traffic in Hanoi.  Hanoi was our starting and ending point, as well as a mid-trip stop, so we spent a fair amount of time in Hanoi.  Most people ride motorbikes in the city, and there are basically no traffic rules.  Crossing the street is unreal…it’s a human frogger game.  There is no way to really describe what it’s like.  Just YouTube “Hanoi traffic” and prepare to be amused and amazed.
Hanoi on your toes at all times!

All in all, Vietnam was a great experience!  So glad to get to experience another part of East Asia!!  Check out my album on Facebook to see more pics.

SCUBA Certification

Off the coast of Haeundae Beach
I have wanted to get SCUBA certified ever since my first diving experience on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia back in ’96.  However, I never quite had the time or money to do it.  Now I have both!  It was a very cool experience.  I’m looking forward to exploring another world.  My first dive as a certified diver will be with Karla Schottle.  She’s coming for a visit and arrives on September 1…CANNOT WAIT!!!!

Summer Camp
Working the English summer camp was a great experience!  It gave me exposure to the elementary level.  As would be expected, students whose parents are pay for them to attend a summer English camp are at a little higher level.  For the most part, they were eager to learn and participate, which is a bit of a switch from my middle schoolers.  On the other hand, they are a little whinier and needier than my middle school students.  There are goods and bads to everything.  I am thankful for the experience, though.  I want as much exposure to the teaching environment in Korea I can get.  Heck, I want as much exposure to everything Korea that I can get.  That’s why I’m here!

So, tomorrow I start back at the middle school.  Part of me is ready because I’m looking forward to getting my routine back and seeing my coworkers, who are truly fabulous people.  Part of me is not ready because middle schoolers are a bit of a tough crowd.  I’m still figuring them out, and I’m sure they’re still figuring me out.  In that process, we have good moments and some less than desirable moments.  Luckily, the good moments shine brighter.  It’s all part of the process of experiencing a whole new culture! J

Well, that’s the recap of my summer!  I am still loving life in Korea and soaking up as much as I can.  I continue to make Korean friends and enjoy learning about the culture.  There are so many amazing things about Korea and Koreans.  Can’t wait to see what I learn next…

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Day of Wacky Fun with my Coworkers

If you are looking for wacky, family fun day games, you can learn a thing or two from Koreans!

Wednesday through Friday of this week is final exam time.  The students take finals in the morning and then go home.  Teachers spend the rest of the day planning, socializing, and having fun.  Today’s big event was a competition among the teachers…so much fun!

After lunch, the teachers all geared up and headed for the gym.  We divided into three teams based on departments.  Then…let the games begin!

First up was team jump rope.  Imagine 14 people trying to jump rope…at the same time!  We formed two lines of seven as two other team members began to rotate the rope.  Let me just say…it is hard to do synchronized jumping with that many people.  The winning team had a total of 3 jumps…my team got 2…the other team…none.  Since I was participating in this one, I don’t have a picture.
My principal and a coworker.

Next up was your good ol’ three-legged race.  A family-friendly competition just wouldn’t be complete without this one!  My team came in first for this one.

After some good laughs over the three-legged race it was on to Rock, Paper, know it as Ro-Sham-Bo.  Koreans call it Kawi-Bawi-Bo.  And they LOVE this game!  It solves disputes between students instantly.  If they’re arguing over something, just tell them Kawi-Bawi-Bo, they get a winner, fight ends…simple as that!  I even attended a wine party that included Rock, Paper, Scissors as part of the ice breaker.  So it’s only natural that it showed up at today’s competition.  My team came in second for this one.

Steal the flag was a fun game.  Imagine wearing flag football belts and flags and trying to rip them off the other team.  It’s a free-for-all of everyone running every which way.  So fun!  Even though my team lost. : (
The last three left...and the man won.
The next game was so unique and one of my favorites.  I refer to it as shoe toss.  There was a starting line and a target.  Then you had to flick your shoe into the target.  The team with the most shoes in the target area wins.  Hilarious!  And my team was the victor for this one. : )

And to bring it all home, the last game involved kicking a soccer ball past the goal keeper and into the net.  We came in second…I think (kinda lost track).  I did get a goal, though, so I was pretty proud of myself for that.  : )

And of course what day of wacky games would be complete without door prizes.  Names were drawn and prizes handed out throughout the afternoon.  I was even called one round to pick and read the names of the winners…good thing I know Hangeul (Korean writing system).  It made me feel good to be included in that.  : )

All-in-all very different and fun day to spend with my coworkers!  As always, looking forward to more adventures to come!