Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Orientation part 2 (or why no I haven't heard of this thing you call "sleep")

Changdeok Palace

Following the exquisite reunion with the food of my homeland, I proceeded with the usual meet friends for a drink and head back at midnight thing. Two things made this night more interesting. One is I found out one of the girls at orientation was in Prague at the same time I was. We compared notes and found mutual friends, similar experiences and a wealth of joy in reminiscing. Two was that I got to witness a handsome but drunk Irishmen trying to hit on her while we were talking. I have rarely been so well entertained! His initial line was "You're gorgeous. Would you like to come back to my room." They got worse (or better depending on your point of view) from there. I won't repeat them here. I'll just say they had both she and I rolling.

I'll pause here for an amusing anecdote. While in one of our classes, we were asked to name the three most significant inventions in history. Ignoring discoveries like fire and electricity, two choices were obvious. 1 the wheel. 2 the print press. Number 3 produced some arguing though. Within my group I settled it by proposing the horseshoe and then explaining why. After I finished they agreed, which i assumed was the end of the matter. But moments later when the teacher at the front was asking for ideas, one of the girls in our group stood up, said the horseshoe was number 3 (and pointing at me) said "and he's going to explain why." Finding myself the unexpected center of attention, I proceeded to explain very briefly that the horseshoe was the main invention that moved Europe out of the dark ages (explanation below). When I finished, the teacher without a word wrote horseshoe by the third invention slot and in the area devoted to why it was, he simply wrote "because he said so!"

(for those of you who don't know: horses feet are too tender to work in fields as drought animals and oxen consume too much grain to be kept by peasants. women used to be harnessed to plows. a family's animals would all die from starvation every winter. without animals to assist farming, there was nowhere near enough food being grown to support anything. the invention of the horseshoe allowed horses, who ate less, to work in the fields. thus producing more grain. thus allowing animals to survive the winter and families to not starve to death. before you know it, they had enough food to sell and expansion and commerce quickly followed, etc)

The front gate to Changdeokgung

The next day (Tuesday) was our culture day. After presenting a morning lesson, we were taken to Changdeokgung (Changdeok Palace) which is one of the 2 most important palaces in Seoul and probably the prettiest. Our guide was a volunteer who provided fascinating history throughout and kept the experience good even as it lightly rained on us the whole way.

The "secret" garden behind the palace

From there we went to see an extremely popular variety show called Nanta. It's a show based around drumming, dancing, juggling and other impressive skills set in a kitchen and using only kitchen utensils as instruments. They even did a little cooking. I can't really do it justice except to say that it was a fantastic experience with 5 charismatic performers and I would happily go see it again.

One interesting note on the Nanta show. The audience was extremely diverse (which you would think would reduce communication) but the actors still communicated perfectly to everyone by using a mix of English, Korean and gibberish. I was really impressed.

The usual late evening in-dorm entertainment followed and my lack of sleep continued (4-5 hours average for the week). Fortunately Wednesday was our checkout day. Upon finishing, I and group of 4 of the girls headed for a bookstore (them to buy books, me to look for ideas) and then on to lunch at, you guessed it, On The Border. The 2 South Africans in the group were almost as eager as I was. Apparently their diet is extremely similar to Texans, so even though they had no real experience with Mexican food, OTB was still an instant hit. After another round of unspeakable food joy, we broke up and headed for our various rides home.


By the time I got home I was so tired I could barely think. Thankfully I called and got the next day off to catchup on my sleep and take care of a ton of errands that needed to be done. A fun weekend with friends followed and now I'm back to work with the joyful caveat that this Thursday and next Tuesday are holidays in Korea. Unfortunately Friday and Monday aren't and vacation time can't be used to make them become holidays but I'll take any time off I can get.

cool looking stone

After my first visit to Seoul I've concluded it's a great city to visit (especially if you live anywhere in Korea) but I'm happy I chose Jeju. I met several new Jeju teachers at the orientation and have been staying busy making friends with them. Life here is starting to round into the picture I had in my head when I first arrived. And that's something well worth smiling about.

More of the secret garden

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