Monday, August 9, 2010

Dear Korea:

I would just like to say thank you kindly for providing us with Jeju-do. If it wasn't for the beautiful beaches to sleep on everyday...




.... then I think I would have lost my marbles.

Now Korea, I know we've had some rough times the past few weeks, but after visiting some of Jeju-do's most beautiful waterfalls...




.... I'm now ready to start working on building a more positive relationship.

Oh Korea! Every little part of Jeju-do managed to put a smile on my face. Whether it came from the funny lava rock face garden...




.... or the ALWAYS hilarious displays of statues...



.... or the erotically-themed "Loveland" park open to the public all hours of the day (with parental supervision for those under the age of 16 of course)...




(^^ BOOB MOUNTAINS)

.... in the end you always know how to make me laugh!

So again, Korea, thank you for Jeju-do's Islands...



.... and gorgeous flowers...



.... and overcrowded umbrella covered beaches...



.... because without this glorious 5-day Island getaway, I fear I might have been pushed to go all Roadhouse on a bunch of Korean kindergartners. And no one wants that.

I'm glad we can be friends again, Korea.

Love,
Danielle

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Potpourri

What's up, blog? Been a while...




*cricket* *cricket*




Yeeeaaa sorry about that, friends. My bad. I'm not really even sure what I've been doing the past month. Korea time is definitely faster than the rest of the world.

Because of my recent blog failure, there is SOOOOO much stuff to write about. Imma break it down into sections and try to make it as light as possible, only hitting the things I feel are worthy of writing about. Here we go......

On Traveling:
One of the major trips I've been on the past month has been to Busan. It's South Korea's largest port city, and the fifth largest port in the world.



Though it rained the whole weekend (and by rain, I mean monsoon was in full effect), we still had a pretty incredible time. Spent most of the Saturday in the Aquarium, vegging out in a beach front Bennigan's (LOADED STEAK FRIES FTW!), and hanging out at a jinjabang (which is a Korean bathhouse, or more commonly known as a spa). The aquarium was smaller than I thought it would be but had some pretty cool things.... like a giant tank filled with 9 TERRIFYING sharks. What's even more awesome is the fact that the aquarium offeres SHARK DIVING? What is shark diving you ask? You get to go scuba diving with sharks. Sans cage. Just you... out in the open... with sharks.



And these are some big friggin' sharks. Anyway, the plan was to go shark diving for my birthday, but the instructor was recovering from surgery that is apparently "not shark related," so we're gonna have to pick a new weekend to do it. But I'm definitely doing it. When in Korea, right?

That following Sunday was spent sort of just wandering around. Our hotel was located in Nampo-dong, which is essentially the fish district. This area is home to Jagalchi Market, which is the largest fish market in the world


^^Outside of the market. It's essentially 5 floors filled with isles and isles and isles of live fish vendors.

Not so smoothly transitioning into the day trip I recently took to Damyang....

Damyang is the center of South Korea's bamboo cultivation. We spent the day wandering through the bamboo forest (called Jungnogwon). This was probably the most scenic and beautiful things I've seen since I've been here. The only way to describe it is through photos:





So as you can see, it's literally a forest filled with giant, amazing bamboo trees. In the middle of the forest, we came across a giant opening which held some gardens, old buildings, and a small pond. We also came across a man and woman hand making
bamboo fans. So of course, I bought one. I was then instructed to go to a small house buried in the side of the mountain to get my fan painted.


^^ House we had to wonder to to get my fan painted


^^Hilarious Asian man that lived in the 1 room tiny home. From the outside it looks incredibly traditional. Once we got inside, not only did he signal for me to wait a minute (so he could finish sending a text message), but he also had a TV and stereo system set up in one of the corners.




^^ Finished product he painted for ME! He invited us into his home, joked around and made light conversation (his English was actually pretty good), all while painting my fan. One of the coolest things I'm sure I'll ever get to experience.

Ok. Bathroom break. Get ready for part 2...

On Teaching:
Not gonna lie... most of the time it sucks. The language barrier can be extremely frustrating at times because I try my hardest to get my kids to understand, and when they don't (which is the majority of the time) I start to feel like a bad teacher. I don't actually think I am a bad teacher by any means, but the way we are instructed to teach is not conclusive to actually learning. Parents here want to see fast progress, so when we fall behind on the schedule they start to complain.... A LOT. More often than not I find myself trying to get my kids to fill out the pages in the books just to make it look like we are able to keep up with the schedule. It's really quite sad and almost makes my job seem/feel pointless. It's like I'm just there for aesthetic purposes. I like to call it "playing school."

The kids in general are pretty great though. You obviously have the good and bad ones, but the daily interactions can be very amusing. My preschool class is my favorite class. They're only 3-4 years old and speak little to no English, yet we always seem to have loads of fun together every class. I also really enjoy my middle school class because the kids are older and have had a few years of English at this point, so we can actually hold some sort of light conversations.

And now for something completely adorable:


If anything being able to make these kids laugh like this makes the whole exerience worth it...

Grab a drink. Have a stretch. Ready? Part 3...

On Health and Wellness:
Mosquitos suck. For real. The humidity here has been ridiculous because of monsoon season, which apparently also brings a plague of mosquitos. Over the 4th of July weekend, we had a party on our roof. Since I was the supplier of music, I stupidly left my window open so I could run power cords through my apartment. Well in the middle of the night, I was ambushed. This is what I woke up with:


Yes, my eye is swollen shut because a mosquito bit me. I suppose being mildly allergic to mosquitos doesn't help my cause any either. But this beauty lasted for about 4 days.

As far as living in Korea goes, I don't think I'll ever actually be "used" to it. I mean I have my daily routine (breakfast, work, dinner, gym, relaxation), but it still doesn't feel comfortable. Maybe it's the fact that I get stared down in a disapproving manner from all the local ajumas on a daily basis. Example:


Or maybe it's the fact that any concept of personal space is non existent in Korea. Especially when shopping or standing in line to purchase something or waiting to get on an elevator. I'm never gonna understand why people need to push and shove to be first on the elevator. Is being able to push the buttons just that much more fun in Korea? Sprinting onto the elevator and knocking over everyone in your path isn't gonna make the elevator go any faster once you're on. Here's a tip: Use the stairs. Examples:



Or maybe it's the fact that the air quality is SO POOR over here that I feel like I've had a cold or been stuffy for the 2.5 months I've been here. Example:



This is my life.

There are going to be good and bad things about every new place you move to. Though the culture here is not something a foreigner can easily get used to (seriously, it's like a whole different planet... and another topic for a whole new blog entry), there are definitely some things about living here that I love (like the waaaay cheap cost of living/shopping... and the mountains! Holy wow the mountains!).

But like I said I'll dive deeper into that on another post. I think this update generally covered everything that's been going on the past month and a half (seriously though, sorry about that fail). This coming Wednesday (the 28th) starts my Summer Island Getaway Vacation Extraordinaire! It'll be a much needed break to catch up on my sleeping, eating, reading, and general "doing nothingness." Until next time, friends!

(The comic strips were taken from http://roketship.tumblr.com/ ..... I HIGHLY suggest checking this site out to get a comical, yet informative look on what life in Korea is really like)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Korean Massage With An Unhappy Ending

**Parental Discretion Advised**



J/K... but seriously. This is gonna get personal.



This week has been filled with injuries and pain. At taekwondo on Thursday (June 10th), we started learning (loosely translated) wrist grabs and falls... which is completely fun. There's something hilarious about a 12 year old who's 1/2 your size being able to grab your wrist and flip you to the floor. After that lesson we had some time at the end, so our instructor started teaching cartwheels and round-offs because next week he wants to teach back handsprings. WIN FOR ME. You would think with my 9 year cheerleading and gymnastics background this would have been a piece of cake... you would think. After the first few round-offs... I pulled my hamstring. FAIL FOR ME. The rest of the practice was spent having a massage from my instructor, then a massage from a chiropractor/massage therapist, a trip to the pharmacy for some Korean "Icy Hot," then a trip for some acupuncture. I should mention that I hate needles... almost more than I hate spiders. The acupuncture ended up being pointless because I was extremely uncomfortable.

So Saturday (June 12th), my cousin and I decided to have a "spa day" to help heal my injuries and unwind from the week. We found a cute little massage parlor a few blocks from my apartment. They were all so friendly, told us the prices were cheap (18,000 for a neck and back, 30,000 for a full body and facial), gave us amazing tea and even more amazing "gowns" to lounge in:


^^ adorable right? haha.

After we changed into our... things, we were escorted into a large room where naked Korean women were just laying around on the tables. That should have been our first clue to peace out. I was a little mortified, but once I laid down and got my facial I was completely relaxed (please refrain from dirty jokes, I know it sounds bad). Suddenly, 2 more Korean women came over to my table and pulled my gown off... like, completely off. So here I am, completely naked with mud on my face, having 3 Korean women beating the fat off me. Literally, rubbing so hard I'm surprised I still have skin.

I never thought I would get a boob massage from 2 Korean women. Funny enough, that's not entirely the most awkward moment. They had me stand up, walk to another room (still completely naked with mud on my face), and lay on my stomach. Cue 2 Korean women giving me a butt massage while the 3rd scalped me with her devil hands. The back massage was nothing compared to how the rest of my body felt... until they brought out the large rock to rub all over me. Now you may be wondering, "why didn't she just say no or ouch?" Well I did, and they just laughed and said "Cellulite Cellulite!" Stupid language barrier.


^^My back 1 hour after my massage. Now picture bruises like this all over my body. Oh, and remember that time I was told the full body was only going to be 30,000? Funny thing... it was actually 80,000 and the neck and back was 30,000.

Needless to say I wasn't feeling very relaxed after my massage. But the bruises and swelling are healing quickly, the soreness isn't nearly as excruciating as it was after the first day, it distracted me from the pain in my leg, and certainly gave me a hilarious memory.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I'm In Gamami Trick



This past Saturday (June 5th) marked my 1 month anniversary of living in Korea, and what better way to celebrate than taking a day trip to the beach! The girls (Kelsey, Bess, Megan) and myself packed up early and headed out around 8am to try and get there before the crowds. Thinking this would be an easy bus trip, we got off at the stop that everyone else got off at because we thought we had to...

You ever get that feeling that everyone is staring at you when you walk into a room? Well this was definitely more than a feeling. As soon as we walked into the shady McShadytown bus station, we were the center of attention. For the entire 20 minutes we were in the station, all eyes were focused on us. And it was obvious. Remember that one time I said using the vibrating belt machine was the greatest "awkward turtle" moment of my life? Well, I think this one topped it.

... So like I said, we were expecting this to be an easy bus trip. Once we bought tickets to our next destination, we were informed that we had to get right back on the bus we just stepped off. fail. We finally arrived at our destination (and we knew it was correct because we asked the bus driver every time he made a stop), we hopped in a cab and arrived at Gamami Beach (only after a little dispute with the cab driver because he forgot to turn on his meter and we waaaay over paid for that taxi ride).


^^shot of the beach and mountains taken while I was swimmin' in the Yellow Sea.

As I mentioned earlier, we left early in the morning to try and beat the crowds/get a full beach day in. Well, for about the first hour or so there was not a soul to be found on the beach. AWESOME. So after exploring the land a bit we set up our picnic area (picnic food consists of watermelon, apples, bugles, kimbap, and beer) and got our relaxation on. The majority of the day was spent sunbathing, a little swimming, wandering around the beach, and eating.


Kimbap is clearly an acceptable beach snack.






The above 3 are just a few shots I took from around the beach. As you can see... the beach was completely empty, the skies were bright blue, the water was warm, and the scenery was GORGEOUS. It was the perfect day.


"Crab Balls" = balls of sand made by sand bubbler crabs. They deposit their balls all over the beach (shout out EK).

"Sand bubbler crabs live in burrows in the sand, where they remain during high tide. When the tide is out, they emerge on to the surface of the sand, and scour the sand for food, forming it into inflated pellets, which cover the sand. The crabs work radially from the entrance to their burrow, which they re-enter as the tide rises and destroys the pellets."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_bubbler_crab


I managed to sneak up on the nittany lion while he was napping. Unfortunately, I startled him and he ran off. Last I heard he was thinking about hiking Mt. Mudeung the weekend of June 18th.

Around late afternoon we decided to head back to Gwangju. The surrounding village consisted of a general store, a restaurant, lots of beautiful country scenery... and no taxi service in sight. Of course, everyone we asked for help didn't speak english but directed us to a seemingly abandoned bus stop. We camped out at the bus stop not knowing if a bus to wherever would show up, but just sort of hoped/discussed our next plan. Luckily for us, some other foreigners drove up and spoke significantly more Korean than the 4 of us combined, and were able to call us a cab. The cab ride/bus trip back went 100x smoother than our journey in the morning, and we were back to Gwangju in less than an hour. The rest of the weekend was once again spent cleaning my apartment/doing laundry/catching up on TV/taking too many naps. Until next time, friends...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Wax on, wax off


Fancy a turn on the vibrating belt machine anyone?

Last Monday (May 17), I finally found a gym! Stepping into the gym felt so surreal. It's equipped with some pretty high tech cardio machines and is set up like your average gym (just a bit smaller)... but then there are small rows of vibrating belt machines. For real. And they are used quite a bit. More often than not during the busy hours there is a wait to use these machines. I must have looked completely terrified my first time there because the owner (picture Arnold Schwarzenegger, except Korean) took me through and literally showed me how to properly do each piece of machinery. Including the vibrating belt... which was probably the finest "awkward turtle" moment I've ever experienced.

In other fitness related news, this past week I started Taekwon-do! I go with my friend Jeongseon, who is good friends with our Master, and my other friend Scott, who has been doing it for a few months now. The rest of the class consists of 10-12 year olds who already have their red belts (or are getting ready to test for their black belts) and can seriously kick my ass. But I really enjoy it so far! Today was technically my first full day and the lesson was pretty intense... meaning it forced me to use muscles I forgot existed and now I can't walk. But I'm excited to study and learn more and will hopefully be able to go 3-4 times a week once I get the basics down (plus it's a great way to learn more Hangul).


^^ me looking hilariously awkward in my new "dobok" with my white belt!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

South Korea's got Seoul

Hello friends.. another week of broken blog promises. But this is my third post in a week to make up for the serious blog failure.

So this past weekend (May 21-23), I took my first weekend trip to Seoul! Friday was Buddha's birthday, and a national Korean holiday so we didn't have to work and were able to catch a train up early Friday morning. Upon arriving, we heading to Itaewon to find housing (a popular foreigner district of Seoul). Well apparently we weren't the only ones who had the idea of going to Seoul because we walked around Itaewon for over an hour looking for a place to stay. We finally stumbled upon a "Korean Love Motel" that was super cheap and would let all 6 of us stay in 1 room together. For those of you curious as to what a "Korean Love Motel" is, google it. Seeing as how my Grandparents read this (shout-out Gram Tanner and Gram and Pap VonBlohn!!), Imma leave that one for you to explore yourself. But I will give you a preview of our Oasis:



After settling into paradise we decided to head off to Olympic Park; home of the 1988 summer games! Cue photo montage:




The first 3 are wide shots of the actual park in the center of the Olympic.. Park.



These next 2 are of the EPIC fountain we found at the entrance to the park. It was 90 degrees out... and honestly who doesn't love playing in fountains? Though we were getting some pretty odd looks from the parents who were watching their young children play...


^^Self explanatory

So we pretty much hung out at the park all day Friday. There were a lot of great trails to walk around and it was nice just being able to lay around in the sun. Friday night we found a cute little "Mexican" restaurant to have dinner/drinks. I got enchiladas which weren't terrible, but weren't the best I've had. But my poor friend Baeda decided to go for the nachos...


Nachos made out of cheese wiz fail. I think that's the last time I'll try and find good Mexican food in Korea. After, we went to a district called Hongdae, which is literally known as the "entertainment and clubbing district." To sum up, it was another one of those nights where I went to bed as the sun was coming up. I thought partying in Gwangju was insane... but nothing can compare to a night spent in Hongdae... and that's all I'm gonna say about that.

After having an amazing American brunch at an epic find of a restaurant called "Gecko's," we headed to the business district of Seoul to explore and find Jogyesa Temple. Jogyesa plays the biggest role in the current state of Buddhism in all of Korea. Check out http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264352if you wanna learn a bit more. Cue photo montage part 2:


There was the most AWESOME display of lanterns surrounding the temple. Words can't even describe just how unbelievable the colors were. Like most of the photos I took at the temple, pictures don't do it justice.




We got to witness a Buddhist prayer service. The monk was singing the most beautiful chant, but again I can't put into words how incredible it was to be present for this. It brought me to tears. I am blessed to be able to experience this moment. I made a short video of the monk chanting (and of the temple surroundings) so check it out at the end of this post.


Some of the trees surrounding the temple are over 500 years old. I wish I could say something more than "words can't describe yadda yadda yadda..." but in all honesty, they truly can't. The temple and the colors were all so beautiful... being here was so overwhelming, but in a good way.


Hey! Remember that time I photo bombed a movie? Yea... that was awesome. They were filming a movie on the temple grounds (hence the cow and filming paraphernalia you may be able to see in the first picture) and since ruining pictures is sort of my thing, I felt the need to step up my game. win.

After hanging around the temple for a good portion of the afternoon, we decided to check out the Insadong area, which is known for having ceramics, handcrafted paper goods, amazing traditional clothing and jewelry, etc. I didn't buy any thing this first trip because there was way too much to look at and "take in," but needless to say people back home are going to be getting some pretty epic Christmas gifts this year. Cue rain. fail.

It was just a cold drizzle so we decided to ride it out and head over to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Unfortunately, we decided to not go into the palace grounds because it cost money, it was cold and rainy, and we were all pretty much exhausted. Though we did stare at the gates surrounding the palace and there was a free area to walk through.


Front entrance to the palace grounds.


A building that I never caught the name of on the palace grounds that was free to explore.


friends!

So at this point the exhaustion was overbearing, the rain was freezing, and we were all starving. After freshening up at the motel... we headed to explore the alleys of Itaewon to find food. We ended up at the cute little Thai restaurant:


^^ This is probably the most delicious (and spicy... holy wow spicy) curry I've ever had. This place was definitely an epic find. We headed to a bar called Bungalow next where the floor is covered in sand! They also have some of the best (and expensive) mojitos I've ever had. They also have giant swings everywhere that you can lounge in:


^^ lounging in the sand... haha.

Saturday night was pretty chill. We were all too exhausted (and too poor) from the day/night before so we called it an early night (and by early night I mean we were in by 1am instead of 4am). We headed back to Gwangju the next morning and the rest of my Sunday was spent napping/watching movies/not cleaning my apartment. That's all for now... I'll leave you with the video I captured of the monk chanting during the prayer service:

video