Thursday, July 30, 2009

the blue house

06 May 2009~

Sunyoung had asked me a month or so previous if I would like to come visit her at her part-time teaching job sometime, and of course I said I would love to. You see, Sunyoung was working at the Blue House. The Blue House is like Korea's version of the White House. Yes, that's right, the official residence of the president of South Korea. As you might expect, 청와대 ('cheongwadae' - 'blue tiled house') also contains several other buildings, and the whole place is thick with security. And this is exactly where my connection lay. Sunyoung was teaching English to the security staff of the blue house. She had been telling me a lot about her work, and now was finally my chance to meet this troop of what I believed to be intimidating ajossis (working men). I couldn't have been more wrong, though. They were all extremely friendly and courteous and excited to try out their English on me. They blew my nervousness out of the water! But the experience also reiterated my observation of how differently in Korea strangers act when they have a reason to know you and when they don't. I barely had a chance to take a breath with all the running around and talking we did. It was a load of fun.

[here's the actual Blue House]

[this is some reception hall]

There were so many strange security precautions like where we were supposed to walk or stand and which way we were supposed to go. We were constantly being rushed along so that everyone would have enough time (there were other groups of visitors). Somewhere along the way, I was given a free, green mug with a picture of the Blue House on it.

[me and Sunyoung]

After the tour, we had lunch in the security guards' cafeteria which was in their office building. It was pretty tasty. The whole neighborhood is right in the middle of Seoul, but I had never been there before, and it felt so different. I imagined how strange I would feel walking down those streets if I were there on my own - the only people who lived there were government workers, and everyone on the street had a suit on. This day turned out to be Sunyoung's last day with her students, so they presented her with a gift of appreciation, and we were able to meet the director of the Blue House security. Pretty cool stuff. I was a little nervous about that, because the range of my knowledge about Korean etiquette only goes so far, and I had never been in a situation like this one before. Still I managed to muddle through and give a few dazzling displays of Korean speaking skills (not really). Definitely a unique experience.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

bungee jumping in korea

05 May 2009~

so one day during my lunch break at work, i went outside to chill. I sat down on a bench and after a while, a couple of my student buddies came and sat down next to me. we were chatting about the upcoming weekend, and one guy, eric, began talking about bungee jumping. pretty soon after, he, david, and I had laid out plans to take a little trip to 청풍랜드 (cheongpung land) the location of korea's highest bungee jump. saturday morning, eric and i woke up early and travelled to david's home in 잠실 (jamsil) were we rented a car and proceeded to drive southeast from seoul to where the park is located, approximately in between the cities of chungju and danyang.

the drive was incredible. it was a perfect day for windows down and music blaring. i was a little apprehensive doing another daytrip-drive after the traffic torture of the last one, but things proved promising as we had chosen an out-of-the-way destination. the scenery was marvelous. driving between mountains and along a river as it dug deeper and deeper into a breathtaking gorge, we spotted many places that would be nice to sit and enjoy a beer on the side of the road. the order of business had to be carried out first, however, preferably, but not necessarily, bereft of beer.

we got to the park and bought tickets for all the rides (there were 3). we decided to save the bungee jump for last and try to sort of work our way up to it.

[david, eric, and me, ready for the first ride - this crane was cranked back upwards; the rope hanging below me is the release cord; once we get to the top with a great and terrible view of what lies beneath our bellies, we have to pull the cord to send us hurling like a wrecking ball downwards - for me, this turned out to be more thrilling and terrifying than actually bungee jumping]

[trying to work up the nerve to pull the cord - im glad someone else did it instead of me]

[david and i getting ready for the 'ejection seat' ride which is pretty much what you would imagine - two bungee cords on either end are stretched upwards, then the cockpit is released, spinning in a roll; i did this one twice]

[second time with eric]

unfortunately we didnt get picture of actually bungee jumping, so i'll have to summarize it for you. basically, it was the closest ive ever come to feeling like im in combat - waiting for my turn to jump, feeling the fear of the other people around me as they're waiting, getting suited up, standing on the brink trying not to think about anything and especially not about whether or not im going to do it, someone shouting at you to go! we had to sign our names on a injury/death waiver before being allowed up to the top of the structure. once we got up there, we had to sit and wait while other people went ahead of us. one guy couldn't do it and that discouraged everyone. eric went first, then it was me.

i just tried to force everything out of my head and obey like a robot when i was told to go. once i jumped, it was spectacular. soaring through the air, i wasn't afraid at all, just filled with exhilaration. i remember clearly the sensation of looking past my toes at the sky as i was being pulled upward upside-down by my feet after reaching the end of the first plummet (the bungee was tied to my feet). it was incredible.

i guess im supposed to call out the name of my lover as im falling, but i was worried about david waiting to go next and i wanted to tell him how great it was and to not worry. so i called out 'DAVID!!' instead of 'ginny'. sorry, ginny.... after that i sort of went crazy and started unbuttoning my shirt as i was bouncing around and beating my chest and screaming like a maniac (i watched other people go after that and didnt see anyone do anything like this, so i felt a little embarrassed later). the bungee eventually goes slack and you are lowered into a swimming pool where there is someone in a rowboat waiting to detach you from the bungee. waiting to be detached kinda sucks because at that point, all the blood is in your face and you think your nose and ears and eyes are going to pop off. it was fun.

[congradulating each other afterwards]

[eric and i get married]

[energized after the jump, we got some lunch and drove back (no traffic), enjoying a couple beers at a park before saying goodbye - truly a terrific day!]

Friday, July 10, 2009

road trips, seafood, mostly-clean beaches, horrendous traffic

01 May 2009~

the second half of the spring term at HUFS (my school) included a change in classes and schedules for the teachers, and after a couple weeks of adjusting and organizing class materials, i was ready for a break. saturday was my birthday, so on friday night, i went out for some 삼겹살 (samgyeopsal) with my old 1A class and had a thoroughly good time. at one point i was drinking a pyramid-waterfall of shots of soju, immediately after which i received a returned call from YBM english school about scheduling a korean class (i told the guy it wasn't a good time). the night stretched on quite late; i invited 1A to hang out at my apartment, and we stayed up past dawn. i remember sitting on the steps to the building as the sky was brightening and chatting drunkenly with MK (the class's captain and one super swell guy). most of us slept on the floor.

03 May 2009~

on sunday i was meeting up with my two old students and friends from suwon, philip and daniel, and daniel's fiance in suwon from where we would be driving out to 동해 ('donghae'), the east sea. having never been there, i was really excited to get out and do a road trip. it was fine sailing as we flew down the beautiful country roads, and the weather was perfect. upon arriving in the smallish town of donghae, we immediately embarked on a quest to conquer our hunger on raw seafood. the local fish market was quite sizable, albeit a little cramped with all the people running to and fro.

we selected our victims and followed a hired butcher to her personal killing station. i watched with awe and just a little bit of horror at the offhandish-deftness with which she dispatched our prey and sliced it up for us into neat, little, bite-sized morsels.

[we took our food to a little restaurant that doesn't sell food, but rents space and a means to cook your recently-purchased seafood]

after a large and satisfying meal, we took a stroll of the docks where the fishermen and fishing boats were resting.

we then made our way to the beach, and here we rested for a few hours to digest, soak up the sun and fresh air, and watch the children playing and exploring.

[daniel and me]

strangely (and unintentionally) i can't seem to find any photos of philip (well, there was one, but he was blinking and making a dorky face, so i left that one out for his sake).

anyway, with the afternoon mostly spent, we decided to start our drive back to seoul. little did we know of the horrendous madness that awaited us on the road...

traffic. serious and terrible and ridiculously congested traffic. i will spare the details and just leave you with the image of an endless crawl that tried the patience and spirits of us all. running out of things to say is bad. playing the same music over and over again is worse. and the slow realization that what had previously taken less than 3 hours was going to take 8 and that i would not be able to get home because the subway was going to close brought my anxiety to its apex. our own fault for coming back on sunday evening. ugh.

afterwards, when we finally reached suwon, i stayed at philip's place. he was a very gracious host and i was incredibly thankful for his accommodation. luckily, i didn't have to teach until 11:30 the next morning, so i was able to go home early in the morning when the subway opened and take a nice nap in my own bed before heading to work. donghae was great, but i needed another weekend afterwards.