Thursday, April 23, 2009

midterms, pinheads, turkeys, the French Revolution, and drunken baskets

although i was tired from my trip to pusan and daegu, i had to get right to work, writing tests and finishing up grading my classes. tuesday, the first day of midterms, was especially rough because i had three tests to give, all different levels and subjects. wednesday was much better, with only one test and plans to hang out with my class, 1A, afterwards.

the test was finished by 2:30, and five minutes later, we were on our way to the neighborhood bowling alley! this was just the medicine i needed. as i mentioned in my last post, the accident i witnessed on sunday night shook me up pretty bad, and coupled with midterms and problems with my girlfriend the night before, i was run pretty ragged. nothing like spending time with 1A to rejuvenate the spirits!

(teaching side note: sometimes i wonder why many english teachers in korea don't allow themselves to get closer with their students. ive made so many friends through teaching, it's strange to hear other teachers complaining about having to go out with their classes - i've always looked forward to that. i dont think it's because of lacking things in common. language barriers aren't even that hard to overcome with the right attitude. i think some teachers feel the need to maintain a professional attitude outside the classroom; as if they are worried of familiarity undermining away their authority as a teacher. so far, ive found my students respect me more when they feel like im willing to toss my hat aside in order to get to know them better. perhaps it's because im closer in age to many of my students. anyway, my students are great. i love teaching, and i love teaching in korea. it's as simple as that.)

[eileen and jinny waiting their turn - game one started out pretty slow for just about everyone; i bowled around 80 i think... ouch]

[betty and chuck let it fly]

[wook (closely watching the game), chuck, and jade]

after game one, we split off into teams. team one: sam, betty, jinny, wook, and jade - team two: mk, eileen, smith, chuck, and me. game two went a little better. wook amazed us all with an incredible 193 (am i correct?), sending his team into the lead. at this point everyone started getting really competitive and things got pretty ugly. insults and jeers ran rampant through the air. people started cursing each other's families and at one point smith pulled out a knife when betty laughed at his gutter ball. but cheering also became more passionate, and camaraderie was at an all time high. we decided to play one more game and go all or nothing. the stakes: a COLD DRINK. when we took a break before the third game, the air in the smoking room turned chilled with foreboding...

[sam, jinny, and betty - our enemies]

instead of being too tired to play well in game three, many people did even better (except for wook who cashed in all his chips in game 2). jinny got a smashing-hundred-forty-something, and chuck surprised us all by almost tripling his game 1 score! i was probably most surprised by my own luck, starting off the game with a turkey and finishing up with a new high score of 178! (and to think that i used to hate bowling as a kid...)

['the gutter bums' after the match - unfortunately it was beyond the bowling alley employee's capacity to take a clean photo in a brightly lit place... sad.]

afterwards, most of us went on to get some 갈매기살 ('kalmaegisal' - pork loin served unfrozen, uncooked; you grill it in the middle of your table, like samgyeopsal) and the necessary accompanying beverage.

the first 10-weeks of the daytime 20-week english course at HUFS ended on thursday, rewarding the students and teachers with a day off on friday (except for those few of us who have to teach night classes). 1A invited me to join them on their trip to lotte world, one of the highest attended parks in the world with an indoor theme park, an outdoor amusement park, shopping malls, an island connected by monorail, theaters, hotels, sporting facilities, and a folk museum.
[we arrive]

[waiting in line for Gyro Swing which scared the crap out of me cuz you're swung out over the lake so that you're facing downwards with only your seatbelt holding your body from dropping out of the seat - i was imagining dying the whole time... woohoo!]

[sam actually looks like he belongs in there]

[that's pretty much how i looked riding Gyro Drop (see below)]
next stop: bumper cars
we may have waited in line longest to ride these, but it was well worth the wait. nothing like taking out your rage on strangers and seeing their necks fly in unnatural directions - it's like driving fantasy
[i pull john over and ask to see his license]

[lily sideswipes me good]
[waiting for Gyro Drop - the ride where you can experience the thrill of free-falling - betty was the only girl brave enough to ride it]

Gyro Drop slowly raises you up, rotating the platform around so that you can get a really great view of the park, river, and surrounding neighborhood. you pause at the top for a few seconds, spinning around with anticipation so heavy you cant breathe. then it drops and if you aren't already screaming, the air has no chance to get out of your lungs. i rode this one twice :)
gyro drop is almost 400 feet high. when it falls, at the apogee of it's acceleration, you're moving as fast as 84mph (125 f/s). the first time i rode gyro drop, i couldn't breathe at all - my mouth was just hanging open. the second time i rode it, i bet with sam that i could scream louder then him and when we got off, both our throats hurt for quite a while afterwards.
[we were ravenous after gyro drop - we feasted on yummy kimbab, ramyeon, and hot dogs (if anyone knows the korean name for those circle-shaped kimbabs, please tell me - thank you mk for bringing them!)]

[lovely 1A]

[waiting to ride the Atlantic Adventure - jade, jinny, sam, smith & me]

[some cute kids on a field trip (they even had little ties!!!)]

[me an' john]

[mk and betty walking like an old married couple]

[we moved in doors; waiting in line for The French Revolution (i put this in the title just so you would think, 'wtf does that mean?')]

[the hidden cam picture of us - betty (looking pretty bored) and mk in the back, eileen and me up front (i was trying to take off my shirt to flash the camera)]

[lookin' badass inside the virtual roller coaster]
next was a ride on the merry-go-round
[john and jinny (considerably less badass)]

[sam & smith (too boring for you, smith?)]

[mk and me]

[one more goofy pic (note: person on the left is not my student - that's lily, grammar teacher)]

[aptly named, this ride was the equivalent of 'spinning tea cups' - the day wouldn't have been complete without giving these a whirl; i foolishly chose to be in the same cup as sam and felt pretty sick afterwards...]

[our last ride was a revisit to the ever-classic Viking - always fun ...unless you're ginny and you've already ridden it five times]
then it was time to go!

[don't worry mk! we can come back another day!!]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

pusan, daegu, mountain temples, fish markets, road-trippin in korea, jabba the hut's secret identity revealed!!

last week was midterm week at HUFS.

students may (and do) complain about this, but it's just as much work for the teachers - at least it was for me because all of my tests were speaking tests, so not only did i have to write the test, but i couldn't even sit back while the students took it; i had to really pay attention to each student's fluency, accuracy, participation, grammar, vocabulary, comprehension, etc. as they took my test in small groups. one of the shocking (but not really that surprising once you think about it) secrets about teaching is that teachers actually have an idea about what grades to give the students before the test. ive discovered grading here to be quite a bit more arbitrary than i expected.

anyway, it was a busy week, so i've got a lot of catching up to do on blogging. and i've been DOING a lot too. lots of pics and experiences to share.

the weekend before midterms, i went to 부산 - pusan (southeast corner of korea) - to visit and hang out with my friend 용훈 - younghoon (a.k.a. brian). he's working as a personnel manager for a construction company there which builds energy generating or harnessing plants, such as power plants, windmills, dams, etc. i think he's enjoying his job a lot, but it's sometimes lonely i guess, since his hometown is in 대구 - daegu - and his only acquaintances in pusan are his coworkers. i was really glad to head down there and give him some company. he's also a really good host.

on friday night, after class, i rushed to 강변 (gangbyeon) station to get to the 동서울버스터미널 (dong-seoul bus terminal) which has express buses to just about anywhere. i hopped on a night bus at around 11:50pm and slept as best i could until my arrival in pusan at 4-something. i suppose it is pretty exciting to ride by yourself on a night bus to somewhere far away, but i was also really exhausted. it would have been sadly anticlimactic to go to sleep when i got there though.

brian met me at the station (he had actually slept in his car waiting for me) and we drove out of the city toward his home which lies near the border between pusan and another city called 울산 - ulsan. as there were no restaurants open at that hour, we had some instant ramen and microwave dumplings at a local family mart. i was starving.

afterwards, we drove a little ways more to the eastern point of korea to catch the sunrise over the ocean. we just made it, and although the sky was a little hazy, the lighting was lovely. the ocean didnt shine like it does reflecting direct sunlight - it glowed from within, as if the sun were rising through it.

[this older couple were the only other people around.
a distant airplane silently pierced the warming sky,
slicing a fiery ribbon through its pearlescence,
signaling the day to begin.
this statue of a woman and her children are the family left behind of a man, 박제상 (park jesang), who sailed eastward to old japan long ago to rescue the captured princess of 산라 (old korea) and disappeared; they remain, gazing east for his return]
we then drove to brian's employee dormitory. it wasn't a bad place. the area around was really countryside. the dorm itself was actually a pretty large complex of buildings, which stood out against the rest of the neighborhood. when we got there, the place was beginning to wake up; there were people coming to the cafeteria for early breakfast, and brian told me that they often had to work on saturday mornings.
we crashed for a few hours before going off to tour around.
the first place we visited in the morning was an old temple tucked into the folds of a lumpier-than-average chunk of the korean landscape. i really loved the countryside out here. seeing such old, old, time-polished mountains that have withstood eons of change draws a strange, deep-rooted feeling out of me - maybe if i were to lose myself in those mountains, i would discover my own history carved into theirs.
the drive there was pleasant.
the weather was simply perfect that day. sun shining, we drove down the cherry tree-guarded road to the temple. the breeze that shook the last of the cherry blossom petals from the slender branches seemed to be inviting us. windows down, music floating out of the speakers, we cruised lazily along.
[these flowery temple sentries ushered us toward 장안사 - 'jangan temple']

[this several-mile-long string of lanterns led the way to the temple]

[this statue of buddha reminded me of jabba the hut]


[inside 장안사]

after touring the temple, i coaxed brian to climb a small, nearby mountain with me to get a better view of the landscape. we discovered another little temple which was a mountain hermitage for monks.

[on the hermit's doorstep]

[a gang of hikers we passed on our way down]

[brian told me there was an ownerless donkey that wandered around here. we didnt get a chance to see him, so i settled for a picture of a man relaxing and eating an orange]

after visiting 장안사 we went looking for a much needed brunch. the place brian took me too was a wonderful feast of korean side-dishes. it was like the korean equivalent of a sunday morning brunch. i gleefully stuffed myself.
our next stop was the pusan fish market!
we drove into the city, parked in someone else's apartment garage, and toured the streets. the colors, sounds, and smells of the fish market were dazzling.
[on the deck outside the market with a view of the surrounding city that stretches around 부산만 (pusan bay)]

[a little girl was taking photos too]

we then wandered around a crowded, nearby flea market. it was choked with people digging through piles of clothes and eating street food. the streets were really narrow and hot, but full of excitement too. afterwards, we went back to the apartment were brian parked his car, bought a couple of beers, and enjoyed them at a small park in the late afternoon sun.
[brian said it's sort of strange to drink beers like this outside, but it's one of my favorite things to do in the summer in korea (okay, it's not summer yet, but who cares?)]
in the evening, we went to an italian restaurant and ordered some delicious, buttery cheese pizza that was also served with honey as a dipping sauce. yum! we then grabbed some bottles of soju and beer and an assortment of snacks and headed back to brian's place to relax and chat the night away. we spent a good deal of time (especially me) remembering past experiences in hawai'i and when i was last in korea, talking about how people have changed or not changed. it was thoroughly nostalgic and wonderful.
we woke (somewhat) early sunday morning and jumped in car to head to 대구 (daegu), brian's hometown, where his cousin was getting married. i love daegu best out of all the big cities in korea. as soon as we were driving down its tree-lined streets, i was reminded of how i felt the first time i was there. it's so cozy, surrounded on all sides by mountains - it feels somehow home-like to me. i was delighted to get a chance to return to daegu and to see brian's home and meet up with my friend hyejeong while brian was busy with wedding/family stuff. on top of that, it was easter, so i asked hyejeong if i could visit her church, which i did. before meeting up with hyejeong, we stopped by brian's home, and i met his mom who served us a superb korean breakfast. there was a marathon in daegu that day, and i sat on brian's couch, watching it on tv. it was a really bright, sunny day, and it filled me with the hopfulness of spring.

the marathon also had the added effect of making it virtually impossible to drive anywhere, as many of the roads were made inaccessible to cars. eventually brian got me to the subway station and i hopped on board to meet hyejeong in 성서 (seongseo). we got some 냉면 ('naengmyeon' - cold, rice noodles and beef with vegetables - perfect for a hot day) and then headed to hyejeong's church. it felt good to sing church songs again (even if in a different language - singing in korean was one of the ways i learned how to read korean more quickly) and i made many faces at the numerous cute children running around during the service and staring at me. after church, hyejeong and i got some coffee before she had to go to meet a student for a private lesson.
[hyejeong and me at 계명대 (keimyung university) before saying goodbye]

after parting ways, i wandered around keimyung university while i waited to meet up with brian again. the place was huge, and aparently modeled after havard, according to hyejeong. i remember visiting this place at night with her brother 3 years ago during my first visit to daegu. at one point, i became desperate for a bathroom and ran all over the place looking for one that was actually stocked with toilet paper. the details to the end of this story are quite grim and possibly unsuitable for most faint-hearted people, so i will omit them here. rest assured, i survived. barely. and not without sacrifice. there. that is all.
[building around the univ.]
brian met me at the university to deliver my backpack which i had foolishly left in his possession, and our goodbyes were made brief. he had to get back to his family business and i had to get back to seoul. i got on the subway again and headed for the bus station in daegu. it took me a while to find a bus, but i eventually did. unfortunately, by the time i made it back to seoul, due to an accident on the freeway, it was too late to take the subway back to my home. i made it as far as 성수 station, where i was stranded. i was tired, and the drab, shadowy neighborhood around there didn't help my spirits. i walked around underneath the immense, looming overpass that hung over the subway exit, looking for a cash machine so that i could take a taxi home. i should have been better prepared, and as one convenience store cash machine after another failed to respond to my pleas, i became more and more desperate to get out of there. i decided to get as far as i could on the $5 i still had, and as i was searching on the side of the road for a taxi to pick me up, i witnessed a terrible sight. a biker, apparently on his way to deliver something, was smashed into by a taxi underneath the overpass. horrified, i stared, waiting for a sign of life from the man sprawled in the dark street.
the police came, tried to speak to the man, and questioned the driver and some of the passerbyers. they drew a line around his body. an ambulance came and took him away. there were no sirens. it was a bitter experience. standing out there in the dark, in an unfamiliar place, my heart and mind were racing. eventually i got into a taxi, gave him my destination, and showed him my $5. the wonderful man took me all the way home. perhaps he saw something of what i had just seen reflecting in my eyes when i told him to let me off because i didnt have any more money and asked him how i should walk the rest of the way. he just told me it was alright, switched off his meter, and kept driving. i was so thankful.
even afterwards, i felt pretty shaken up over the next few days - like i had left some tender part of me out in the sun too long and it had shriveled up. but new things quickly came and brightened my spirits. most notably, my 1A class! they'll be in my next post, so keep reading!