Friday, July 31, 2009

My New Scary Camera

So, when my little crappy point and shoot digital camera finally died I had to do the inevitable and what I had planned to do since I got here and buy a fancy DSLR.
How can I have a degree in photography and still not have a DSLR? I don't know. 
But anyway, by some amazing stroke of luck I found a fluent English speaking, Australian accented Korean who sold me a camera that is now sitting on my desk because I am too scared to touch it in case I break it. Maybe it's the feeling women have after giving birth to their new baby? Maybe.
I tell you what - I needed a stiff so-ci (soju and lemonade) after purchase - expect my photos on this blog are now going to be shiny and more profesh. ha!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Weeds and Te Reo

- This week is officially vacation week at our school and because of my lovely London excursions I am well out of holidays, so I have been strolling into work in my pyjamas and watching on average of 6 episodes a day of Weeds. It is amazing.

- After staring at the computer screen for too long I pop into the sun for some reading- just finished The Kite Runner. It was a lovely book.

- Today I went to have a quiet Korean din dins with my book and I was met by some of my favourite kind of starers at the restaurant - two wee kids. They were so funny and nonchalant about staring but these tiny cuties barely blinked and then would wave at me about every two minutes. Then the girl walked right along the bench seat straight up to my face - she leaned in so close that she pretty much gave me a hongi.

- Also, in New Zealand it is Te Reo Maori Week - which is our second official language. Dad just informed me that he went to school with the dancing robot man from this music video in Hawera.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Jisan Valley Festival

After the atrocious transport situation the day before, I was a little apprehensive about traveling to the middle of nowhere again - but Patti Smith was calling me so I sucked it up and got ready for a 3 hour trip.
This was the inaugural Jisan Valley Festival and it was held over 3 days. It is the most beautiful area - lush green mountains completely surround the dip where a giant stage was set. Weezer, Fall Out Boy, Basement Jaxx had played previously but I thought Patti Smith and Oasis were the best of the line up so just decided to go on the Sunday. It was really well organised: Free buses from the subway station, heaps of staff, food and alcohol available.
I was lucky enough to have a fellow Patti die hard fan with me: the lovely Katie, we met up with Mark, Colleen and Kerri - so it was really a giant fun in the sun fest.
I got to drink G&T's out of a bag. It was awesome.
The partying was just too much for these sleepy Korean festival goers.
Some great characters were about.
In Korea, no matter how late, crazy, loud an event will be - you will always find children. These ones obviously have the coolest parents EVER!
Patti Smith is the last person I thought I'd see in Korea and she was the absolute main reason I came to the festival. She has an amazing presence that surrounds her, every word that comes out of her mouth is meaningful and thought provoking. Her voice was ridiculously strong and powerful and she seemed genuinely gracious and excited to be at Jisan.
Patti and Lenny Kaye ROCKED it. Best moments were when she opened with "Dancing Barefoot", the opening piano to "Because the Night", her beautiful Michael Jackson tribute and "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger". At 62 years old - she totally still has it. 
I actually cried with happiness.
As the sun set, we ate while Jet played and got ready for Oasis. I remember getting (What's the Story) Morning Glory? on tape for my 11th birthday, along with a black denim jacket from Hallensteins. I thought I was the shiz niz. Anyway, even though I haven't really caught on to their new stuff, Oasis always has a place in my heart.
They took a while to come on, while in the mean time we got told to sit down. It was squishy.

I really think that if I was in a band in concert and I stood back from the microphone, hearing the entire non English speaking audience singing every single word to my songs - I would be completely stoked. I was not completely stoked with the Korean girl singing every word, out of tune in my right ear. I give her 100% for enthusiasm though, but the singing so terrible it made me question whether I could ever sing in public again.

Liam was a prick.
Noel was lovely and hilarious.
It was exactly how I thought it would be. A fabulous bonus to my Patti.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ocean World

We had been talking about going to Ocean World for about a month and the result was so depressing I can only write about it in simple bullet points.
- It took literally 6 hours to get there. Sometimes the problem with not speaking Korean is that you can miss the information for the "express" bus.
- I almost couldn't believe that we had made it.
- By the time we arrived, we were naturally pretty antsy and DYING to get on the slides.
- We lined up for 2 hours for the big ride, so we left at 7.30am to finally get wet at 5.30pm. 
- There are really only 3 big rides, one wasn't working so that left two.
- The wave pool was actually amazing. Every time the tsunami wave would come, they would play "Jaws" music.
- I don't even think the pictures of Soju girl everywhere made up for it for the guys.
- I found the express bus home - we got to Seoul in 1.5 hours. Phew!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Family Look

Couple Look? Pffft! Show true dedication to your family in the new summer fashion trend that is raging the Korean streets and beaches.


Though, if you are yet to bare children there are still some stunners for you couples. This one is for all you lazy hand holder/arm wrap-a-rounders.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Boryeong Mud Festival

The Mud Festival is an annual, 9 day long event that is held in Boryeong which is about an hour south of Seoul. The mud is dug up from a near by town and dumped on the esplanade of Daecheon Beach - it is meant to be super rich in minerals and super great for your skin.

I was admittedly a little apprehensive about going to the mud festival, I had heard many rumours of many drunk, obnoxious foreigners (SCARY!) and some more of no transport or accommodation. We decided just to risk it and head the second weekend of the festival in which it seems all of the aforementioned foreigners were too hungover from the weekend before to come and the Korean families came out in droves because of this reason. We had a wee crew of Colleen and Mark and their great friend Kenny who teaches in Japan - of course as usual, a core excellent crew makes for the best times and this was no different.

The first day was pretty ridiculous. They set up all of these games and pits of mud to play in, but it was so windy that many were down - this did not break our spirits and we got muddy.
We got swimmy. My lens starts getting a bit steamed up at this point.
Colour muddy.
And the kids were so cute as always - especially little bluey - he melts and freezes my heart at the same time.
 
In the evening they had performances on the giant stage in which it just got sooo monsoony. The good thing about the monsoon was that when you decide you are just going to get wet - dancing around to K-pop, is just really fun. We danced along the beach in the wild wind as the tide was coming in and it was one of those things that I was thinking: I am never going to do anything like this again.
However, it wasn't fun for my camera which is drying out in rice as I type.
After the concert we dragged our wet bums to a Min Bak - which is a type of accommodation where you just all lay out on mattresses in an empty room and literally passed out from exhaustion (and probably a little alcohol.) 
I managed to add to my "porn in sleazy Korean accommodation" series.
The second day was just beautiful (Pictures from Marku - Thanku.) The night previous had left me with literally no dry clothes so I was left to wear a t-shirt and a pair of boy leg undies that I just willed to pass off as shorts.
I bypassed the mud and and just swam in the huge warm waves, the beach was absolutely packed in a mixture of muddy and clean Koreans and it was such a fun atmosphere.
We headed home, stinky, damp and sunburned on the long train back to Yongsan for dinner.
I was still in my undies when we were in Seoul and felt like I was having a bit of an togs, togs, undies situation. But I dealt with it. (If you don't understand, watch this ad - which is my favourite EVER!)

The whole weekend was super cheap as well - I think I spent about 60,000 for food, travel and accommodation. Zing! 

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Business Planning. It's what gets results.

This week is my 9 month anniversary week - who can believe it? I am well and truly over the hump and on the countdown. It's not that I am dying to leave the place - because I really love it here but I am the type of person who needs to know what I am going to be doing in the next 6 months.

Because I am planning a trip to see Stu on my way home, I started inquiring with my school and sorting out the best way to get there. I was under the impression that if I wasn't going straight to New Zealand I would get reimbursed the cost of my airfare to Korea and I would pay the rest of the fare myself. This is not the case.
If I am not going home, they would give me 700,000 won towards my trip home because I am going via other countries (my flight here was twice that) boo! I'm not sure what other schools do, but it's a general G.E.C. policy that I just didn't know about so I'm not gonna jump up and down about it or anything.

So, at the end of my contract I am going to be doing shitloads of flying. It was about $1000 cheaper for me to fly to London (via Hong Kong), meet Stu there - have a wee European trip in between (this was going to be Turkey but now has changed to Paris), then go back to Korea (via Hong Kong) pick up my things and go to NZ. I actually got the most amazing, ridiculously cheap flights to London, so it's ok (STA is amazing, if you are 26 and under - use it.) Luckily, I am allowed to leave Korea officially (with my school paying for the entire ticket back home) 2 weeks after my contract is finished.

One thing I have learned about this blog is that it saves me from having to repeat myself and that is awesome. This is why I am telling you this now ~ and for my Dunediners: I will be back around the 6th November, with just weeks to spare before Mum and Michael get married.^^

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sleepy Detective.

I have this dilemma about my bed time. If I do not get to sleep by 12am, I think I might as well stay up until 1am to watch Sex & the City and then I don't get to sleep until 2am. Even though I have seen the entire six seasons 4 times since I have been here.
This sleeping pattern has happened ALL this week. 
Now that it is Thursday, I've been feeling pretty exhausted - so tonight I thought I would do things differently: I went to yoga, watched America's funniest home videos, read some David Sedaris and I managed to turn my lights off all before 12. 

Before I go on I need to back track a bit. 
On Monday, one of the adult students (not mine) were walking to school and a man came up behind her and covered her mouth, trying to drag her away, luckily she fought him off and continued to school - shaken but unhurt. Also, last week one of the foreign teachers were approached inappropriately by a man on our school grounds. 
We are so lucky nothing bad happened and it's absolutely horrific that these happened in our wee neighbourhood and during daylight hours, especially now because it doesn't feel as safe to walk around on your own.
When we were speaking about it at the meeting, I mentioned my vagina grabbing incident that happened in March and when told to the police they thought there might have been a connection between all three incidents.
I met with the police on Monday and they had someone in mind that it might have been. I told them through translation everything I could barely remember - an old strange Korean man, can't remember what he wore, didn't say anything etc. etc. I know that I would most probably know if  I did see him again.

So I was all snuggled up in bed, when one of the managers (who live at the dorm) called me.
"The police think they have the man, do you want to identify him?"
"Uhhh, ok"
"Alright, I will come and get you in about 20 minutes"
"We're doing this now?"
"Yes, they are bringing him here"

Oh Jesus.
"Are they getting the adult student to look at him?"
"No"
"Hmmm...shouldn't (the foreign teacher) look at him, because she only saw him last week?"
She was out and about. So it was left to me.
I waited outside while an unmarked police car drove towards us and a plain clothed policeman came up to us. (I should mention he was wearing tartan pants.) He signaled at a man who freely got out of the back of the car, casually shared a cigarette with the 2nd policeman. He was about 20 years younger than my creepo.

And here I am: 1am, ready to watch Sex and the City to distract me from this feeling of uneasiness. I really, really hope they get the other two women to confirm or unconfirm this man also, I know everyone would feel a lot safer if they knew whoever he was, was caught.
But of course, because I don't speak Korean I usually only get about a third of story so who knows what is happening. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tiny Ice-creamers

Some wee visitors we had to the cooking room recently.

Monday, July 13, 2009

CAUTION: Waffles.


Waffles must only be eaten while wearing a pink helmet.

That is such a sweet t-shirt in the background.

This is at a favourite waffle house in Sam Cheong Dong.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The DMZ

First of all. two silly things happened at the beginning of my trip to the DMZ. 
a) We had to leave the dorm before 6am.
b) Not long before the tour began I realised I was only wearing one contact. Therefore, I could only see properly whist covering my left eye.

So I was a bit tired, grumpy and semi blind, but I was happy I was finally making this journey to this place I had read and watched so much about (during my North Korean documentary obsession faze.) Of course, North Korean tension has risen lately but I didn't want to let it stop me from making this trip, but I have to admit I put on my ponamu for a bit of extra protection.^^

We boarded our tour bus that drove up to the invisible line that divides the North and South - the roads were wide and empty, except for military check points along the way.
We were only allowed to take photos when told. None from the bus. It was going against my being not being able to take pictures of everything. I've made strong mental notes.

Our first stop of the tour was "The Third Tunnel" where we went into one of the estimated 20 underground tunnels that the North Koreans have built in hope of invading Seoul. We rode a wee trolley car that lead us deeper down into the ground, then we walked along the tunnel to a sudden barricade of concrete and barbed wire that stopped anyone going through further. It was pretty uncomfortable, being that far underground, but we had sweet helmets. 
Our tour guide was telling us how one of her customers had actually been on the North Korean tour that happens on the other side of the tunnel. Apparently they say that the South Koreans built the tunnel to attack the North, but the dynamite holes in the rock point south bound proving otherwise.
We then went into the Dora Observatory where we could go North Korean spotting, but I couldn't spot any through the summer haze.
We then went to the Dorasan train station. The whole idea of this place was that it was built with donated money from South Korean civilians in the hope that when North and South Korea reunite, it will be the station between Seoul to Pyeongyang. The plan is that the train would also lead onto China, Russia and Europe. The station is completely ready to go, even having the train stamps and customs station but is completely void of people. It's a pretty weird place.
George Bush stood here. Ha!
We then went to the Freedom Bridge which was used to exchange the prisoners after the Korean war. There is a shrine where South Koreans can write messages for unification...
This place also has a weird vibe to it because on one side there is this lovely sight:
Next to which you can remember your patriotism and buy a flag:
and look out over the landscape:
On the other side you can: have a picnic wearing your couple look:
Take your kids to the fountains:
Or to the amusement park. I'm not saying people should avoid the area of the DMZ but there are all these juxtapositions of happiness and warning wire. Again, weird.

We then received a bulgogi lunch (the best I have ever eaten actually) no one was allowed to drink alcohol incase of this leading them to act like idiots later on. Far enough.
On a side note, at the restaurant I met this wee cutie, who must be about 100 years old. She grew the flowers herself.
 
Then we were back on the bus minus the South Koreans who were on our tour and headed to the more "serious" section: Panmunjom.
We were joined by soldiers on our bus who checked everything; our passports, shoes and clothing. We were warned again not to take pictures, make any sort of hand gestures. Our tour guide kept reminding us of the tension and that all military in the area were on high alert, but we were not needed to be told this as the feeling in the air was tense enough already. I am constantly told by my fellow South Korean co-workers and friends that I should not worry about North Korea and quote "We don't care" but as we moved onto Panmunjom it was a different story. 

We went into the advance camp and had our briefing before we were taken into the JSA (the bit where the South and North Korean soldiers stare at each other and we go into the meeting room) and then a soldier walked over to our guide and whispered something in her ear. Three North Korean bodies were found in the river and the area was suddenly on even higher alert, so we were to go back to the bus and back to Seoul.
So that was it. I was so disappointed, so am going to try and get back to the JSA again before I leave Korea. Still, even after only seeing what we saw - my brain was completely fried.

Interesting things you may or may not know that are sourced from my memory so may not be 100% accurate:
- There were a million land mines dropped in the DMZ area during the war, only 30% have been found.
- There is a big concrete bridge that is along the road by the JSA. It is filled with dynamite and can be blasted at any moment to block the road.
- South Korean soldiers have 2 years compulsory military service. North Korean men have 10 years and women have 7 years.
- The reason we couldn't signal while on the line in front of the North Korean soldiers was that they would take a picture of us and it would be used as propaganda of us saying "hello" to the North Koreans.
- Russian and Chinese tourists are often seen on the North Korean side on the border.
- There is a little town of 200 civilians that is on the DMZ called "Freedom Villiage". They do not have to pay tax and have a 12am curfew in case of kidnapping. It is also the only place in South Korea you can buy North Korean soju and beer.
- This is all I can remember right now.