Sunday, June 3, 2012

Why Would You Ever Leave Spain: Part 2

Nearly a year after my Dad visited me in Spain and asked me the question "Why would you ever leave Spain?"  he made the trek to Korea to visit me in Seoul.  Because of some unfortunate bad luck I think he still feels that way.

After the long flight from San Francisco he arrived in Seoul late Thursday. We had a good Galbi barbeque dinner near my school before calling it a night. We had tickets reserved for 7 AM the following morning to tour the DMZ and JSA. This was the only day that we were going to be able to make the tour so that is why we went so soon after his arrival.

The DMZ was quite interesting and I think we both enjoyed it quite a lot. There was a lot of waiting on our tour but seeing the North Korean guards facing down the South Korean guards and stepping into a room that is technically in North Korea is an experience worth the wait. The rest of the tour was interesting too but not nearly as much as actually being so close the the North and seeing the guards. The rest of the trip consisted of a huge tunnel that was dug by the North Koreans years ago and a train station that connects the North and South. The entire tour made it very clear just how much posturing and propaganda is going on and how little any real danger anyone is in. One example we were given was that the flag pole that is up on either side of the DMZ caused a lot of trouble and there was an 11 hour meeting about which side was going to have a taller flagpole. Eventually it was agreed that the North Koreans could have the taller flagpole. It is the tallest flagpole in the world and holds up a 600+ pound flag. You can see it through the fog in my pictures below.

The rest of the weekend went very well too. We had a great time in Seoul visiting places like North Seoul Tower and traditional markets. North Seoul tower overlooks the city and really gives you a view of just how massive in size and population the city is. From the top of the mountain you see a never ending sprawl of high-rises.

We had some very good meals including an absurdly expensive Hanjeongsik. Hanjeongsik is a huge traditional Korean meal that came with about 20 courses including meats, fish, seafood, many vegetables and even raw beef and raw crab.

The next morning (Monday) is when things turned for the worse. My dad had been sitting next to someone who was sick on the flight over and by Monday he felt like he had the flu. To make a long story short, he ended up getting very sick with flu, asthma and pneumonia. After many visits the the Korean doctors and hospitals he had to call the visit short and head home.

We had a great time for the first weekend so everyone was disappointed that he got sick but these kinds of things happen when traveling and I am just glad that he is healthy now. Enjoy the pictures and I will try to not wait 6 months before my next update.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's About Time You Tell Us Something More About Seoul

I have been in South Korea for three full months now and the time has passed by very fast.  It is hard for me to believe that I have been here for that long.  Everything is going very well and I am really enjoying myself here.
My job is great and I am (mostly) enjoying teaching these kids English five days a week.  Everyone I work with is really nice and the kids are (usually) great.   I am the only native speaker at my school other than a Korean American named Cho.  So there is not much English being spoken at my work, which makes me feel like I should learn Korean; I just need to find the time. 
Outside of school I have been having a great time and made a bunch of friends.  I've been having too much fun and spending too much money.  Seoul is really an amazing city, its size and endless possibilities makes makes the time fly by, as well as the money. 
Some of my favorite parts about living here are the food and eating culture.  There are all kinds of crazy foods, some amazingly delicious and some that the smell alone will blow you away (not in a good way).  When eating with Koreans there is always entirely too much food on the table and half of it is fermented or pickled and the other half is raw or spicy.  Lucky for me I love spicy food because if I didn't would be missing out on some delicious side dishes, like raw peppers dipped in hot chili paste. 
Something I have gotten used to and don't particularly like or dislike is the fact that I am a 'waygookin,' a foreigner and a minority.  I have gotten used to kids staring you down as you cross the street or board the subway.  It is pretty funny when some drunk 20-some year old girls cannot stop blushing and calling you handsome and asking you ridiculous questions about things like what kind of dogs do Americans have as pets.  And I love that every time I go to a restaurant I am brought all kinds of special "here foreigner eat this" gifts.  That being said, I have not gotten used to the hostility toward foreigners, that I encounter (or hear about) every once in awhile.
Some of the things I like the least but am getting used to are the copious amounts of Soju (rice liquor) that people drink and the difficult to handle smells that I have to endure throughout the day.  As for the Soju I've learned to just not drink it, I can't handle it mostly because of the taste.  As for the smells; in addition to normal stinky city smells, there are these berries that have fallen off all of the trees that stink something awful.  Of course the kids like to step on the berries and bring the smell into the classroom, then complain about the smell. 
Anyway here are some pictures I have accumulated over the past few months.  A nice mix of school, food, nighttime and a touristy outing with my friend Briana.  We went to a huge palace and drank some "traditional Korean tea."  It was sweet and thick and had pine nuts and fruit floating around in it.  A bit strange really, but not bad.  I will be posting another blog in the next week or so because I have been invited to a coworkers wedding this Saturday and I have a feeling that it will be worth writing about.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Smog Sure Looks Beautiful From Hwaseong Fortress

Through the magic that is facebook I was able to meet with Briana, and old friend who I met in a sociology class freshman year at Chapman University.  Neither of us have a phone but somehow we managed to find each other in this city of 10 Million plus people. 

We decided to do something that the Internet had said was beautiful and free, Hwaseong Fortress.  We took the metro in an embarrassingly indirect rout that took us nearly 3 hours.  After spending a good chunk of the day on the metro we were both super hungry so we stopped at a food place that had fake models of the food outside so that we had an idea of what we were getting.  The menu was in Korean so we ordered Bibimbap for safety reasons.  It was delicious and only 4,500 won (about 4 bucks).  After eating we walked about 10 more minutes looking for the fortress before we saw a  huge wall and wandered our way in.  The fortress was built in the late 1700's and it was my first experience seeing an old Korean historical site that wasn't tucked between skyscrapers (although they were still in the background). 

Overall it was a pretty great weekend and it was fun catching up with Briana and talking about our experiences the first few weeks in Seoul.  More adventures to come. 

And as usual some photos for the readers.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Seoul: Something New Every Day

I spent the last two weeks getting settled at the new school.  Things are going great, I really like the classes, the kids and my coworkers. 

My coworkers took me out to a welcome dinner after school last Thursday and I got a first hand experience of Korean drinking culture.  Let's just say, getting a ride home from my boss at 3 AM on a school night is still kind of a blur.  The dinner took place at a Korean BBQ joint, the food was good and there was lots of it.  There was also a ton of Soju (Korean rice liqour) flowing and it is apparently rude to tell an elder "no" when they offer you a drink.

This Thursday was one of my coworkers birthdays so I went out for round 2.  This time I learned to be rude, although sometime uncomfortable, at least I felt okay the next day.  This time the meal was a bit more adventurous: starting out with a hot plate shared in the middle of the table filled with glass noodles, blood sausage and intestine.   Surprisingly enough I really liked the intestine.  It kind of tasted like spicy squid without the fish flavor (chewy).  Then we moved on to the next place which consisted of soft tofu, spicy sprout soup and raw (just killed) squid).  They pull the squid out of tanks that are on the streets outside of each restaurant with many different types of live seafood, then they take it in the back and chop it up and serve it to you with 2 different types of dipping sauce.  The body tastes really tender and good and the legs taste a bit more chewy than when they are cooked.  It was definitely an interesting experience.  The night ended in an underground karaoke joint where you get your own room with a big-screen karaoke TV.  They love their karaoke.

Anyway did not have my camera with me for most of these adventures but I have also done some walking around the city alone and that is where these pictures come from.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

First Weekend in Seoul

I have no internet, no TV, no phone, and no friends (yet), so I decided to brave the subway system and just get out there. I found a couple of spots that the internet recommends for tourists and I wrote down the subway stop and went to all of them. It turned out to be an amazing weekend.

I saw so much of the city in just two days. The subway system was easy and cheap. My agenda for the weekend included finding good street food, walking through the worlds largest electronics market, walking through South Korea's largest fish market and getting lost in the Korean outdoor markets, shopping centers, parks, and palaces.

I accomplishes most of these things and some unexpected things as well. The electronics market was huge; the building I found was 7 stories with each story about the size of a mega Wall-Mart. It was overwhelming and made me wish I had more money. After leaving I found out that there are 20 different buildings and I only was in one of them. The street food turned out to be no problem at all, it is everywhere and there are more choices than you can imagine. I ate spicy BBQ chicken, spicy fresh baby squids, a korean seafood pancake, and some sort of seaweed rice omelette. The outdoor markets were just like Morocco but with nicer stuff and less touting (much less pushy).

Some interesting things I saw along the way were: emergency gas mask stations placed all over the subway system, fruit prices (in some cases $50+ for a melon), Mcdonald's delivery mopeds, and a women shacking a live octopus in my face hoping for me to buy it.

It's been a really awesome couple of days. The overall experience of the city is indescribable so I hope that the pictures can help. I can't wait to see more, do more, eat more and get settled in my new tiny apartment on the outskirts of Seoul.