Friday, October 28, 2011

Temples, castles and steak to rival Texas

I last left you halfway through Japan.  We'll pick up there.  Friday I woke up feeling good and headed for another temple, the Temple of Pure Water.  This one has been one of Japan's most revered for centuries.  The two most distinguishing features are the 3 streams of water that you can drink from, each of which is supposed to confer a unique blessing on those who drink it.  The other is the temple itself, including a large balcony, that was built without the use of a single nail.

Kiyomizudera Temple

As you can see, you collect the water in a cup on the end of a long pole before drinking from your hand.

After finishing up here, i caught a train and headed for Osaka to meet my friends Jason and Jeb for the rest of the weekend.  After finding them at our hotel we set off for the main night area of Osaka, Namba.  This was the craziness you expect when you come to Japan.

 Namba Restaurants

Namba during a soft rain

The next morning, it was pouring rain so we decided on a different type of adventure.  We took a train out to Kobe, home of the world-famous Kobe Beef.  We stopped at one of their best restaurants and ordered Kobe beef for lunch.  It was crazy expensive (this is Japan after all) but well worth it for the experience alone.  A personal chef prepared our food just for us at our own private table.  And the steak was outstanding!  One of the 2 or 3 best i've ever eaten.  Afterwards, we wandered around Kobe for the afternoon just taking in the sights before heading back to our hotel in Osaka.  

 Our table

Our personal chef preparing the Kobe steak

Sunday we got a break and the weather cleared up enough to allow us to visit Osaka Castle.  Osaka Castle was originally build in the 15th century but it was burned down numerous times throughout it's history until it's final reconstruction in 1931.  The Castle looks exactly as it did in glory period and was surrounded by an impressive array of moats and walls.  We walked all around it, through it and up to the top for an especially nice view of Osaka.  

Osaka Castle

 One of several motes surrounding Osaka Castle

Looking down to one of the moats from the top of the castle 

With this finished, we used up the rest of our Yen (not much) and headed for the airport for a flight back to Jeju.  We all agreed, it was a weekend well spent!

Jason and Jeb in front of Osaka Castle

View of Osaka from the top of the castle

The Empire of the Rising Sun

After my last update, you know that I left Korea.  Right now I am currently in Indonesia on Bali.  But since I just got here, i'll reserve judgement and writeups on it for another few days.  For now, here is an update about my trip last week to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan.

With my contract ending Monday the 17th, i decided to use my newfound free time to visit Japan for 5 days.  Given the prices there and the size of the country, it seemed about right.  I arrived near Osaka wednesday afternoon and caught a train up to Kyoto from there.  Kyoto is the ancient capital of Japan and has tons of interesting history.  It is full of temples, historic districts and interesting shrines.  My first night I set out to explore Gion, the Geisha District.

Entrance to a traditional Japanese Tea House 

More of the Geisha district along the canal 

A group of Geishas out walking

I found Gion charming, lovely and a wonderful spot for a night stroll.  After walking around and trying some random food that my waiter suggested, i headed back for some shut-eye.  The next morning I woke up to find a bright blue sky and I knew immediately what that meant.  The best place to go on a clear day in Kyoto is unquestionably Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion.  As you can see below, it is called the Golden Pavilion because the top 2 floors are completely gilded in thick, real gold.  

Kinkakuji overlooking a serene lake 

 Kinkakuji was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu

Good choice huh?

This was my favorite place in Japan.  Simply breathtaking.  After a quick trip back to my hostel to refresh, I headed for the outskirts of town to check out Fushimi Inari, the fox shrine.  Inari is the Japanese god of rice and business.  This is his main shrine and it is filled with over 10,000 vermilion gates donated by individuals and companies hoping to receive blessing from him.  The pictures can be seen below.  Fortunately I arrived just at dusk.  This is what's known as perfect timing!

Senbon Torii ("thousands of torii gates")

After this wonderful day I headed back, including a good long walk, and went to bed, ready for another great day tomorrow.  But since this has gone on long enough, I'll finish my Japan trip in the next update.  For now, enjoy the pictures.

It seems to go on forver

Sunset over Kyoto

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Goodbye Jeju

This update will be short and simple.  This is my goodbye to Jeju and Korea.  I'm going to miss my wonderfully located apartment (but not the 100s of mosquitoes I trapped or killed in it).  I'm going to miss all the walking and healthy food that made staying in shape a breeze.  I'm going to miss the yogio button.  Yogio is the Korean way of saying "over here".  It is perfectly polite to call this out in restaurants when you want service.  Dang am I going to miss being able to do that.

I'm going to miss the summers that were never too hot.  And the beaches and snorkeling that made for wonderful weekends or after work excursions.  I'm going to miss having a lovely beach 5 minutes walk from one of my schools.  I'm going to miss being a giant and being considered handsome and strong by nearly every Korean I met.  I'm going to miss being a minor celebrity on the island, just by virtue of being white and tall.  

Most of all, I'm going to miss my kids and my friends there.  I made such great friends that I could have happily stayed another year, though I liked Prague as a city far better than Jeju.  And my kids who were so sweet, made leaving so hard.  Days after my final lesson I still got messages from them saying "I'm sad.  Don't go."

But I must say goodbye for a new door to open.  Right now that new door is the chance to come home and see family and friends.  After that ..... I don't really know.  But i know the future is bright!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Goodbye Korea

Me with two of my Pyeongdae 6th graders, Min Goung (left) and Hyun Ji (right)

If you're wondering why there have been a dearth of updates lately, it's because i've been preparing to leave Korea and spending just about every free second with friends and girlfriend (talking).  Monday is actually my last day and I've already said goodbye to the majority of my students.  The goodbyes were bittersweet on both sides and i'm not planning to say much more on a public blog.

The only story i'll relate is about one of my favorite goodbyes that came from my smartest 4th grader, Jung Jin.  He knows we are both Christians and we likely won't meet again.  So as I was leaving Kujwa elementary school Friday for the last time, he stuck his head out one of the windows and called out "Goodbye teacher!  See you in heaven!"  Sad as i was to go, i couldn't help telling him "Yes we will" with a big smile on my face.

Jung Jin is the boy on the right in blue.  And the crazy one on the left is Won Sok, a teachers kid and hilarious.

Since I don't plan to relate other, very personal goodbyes, you can just look at the pictures and see for yourself.  I can safely say for my part i love my kids and i really hate to leave them.  And judging by the many presents, cards and hugs i got the last few days, it appears they feel the same way :)

Note:  Korean names, like US ones, have 3 parts but they don't function the same.  All 3 names are one syllable each.  The first name is the family name, the next two are the equivalent of a first name.  So Pak Jung Jin is basically the same as Brazell Luke.  The names are hard to adjust to at first but the one syllable thing really helps.  (and remember, you can click on pictures to make them bigger if you want a better view)

 Sun Ah, my smartest 1st grader and absurdly cute

 The 3rd grade at Pyeongdae in the library.  They're very affectionate and some of my favorites.

 One of our games.  They grab my arm, then i lift them up.  Especially popular with the 2nd and 3rd grade.

A group of the girls at Pyeongdae, mostly 4th and 6th graders.  All angels

The 5th and 6th grade boys at Pyeongdae, taking a break from playing Angry Birds for a picture.  My favorite class to teach.  Enthusiastic, outgoing and well behaved.  I looked forward to this one every time.

The 4th grade girls at Kujwa.  So sweet! 

The 6th grade boys at Kujwa.  When I didn't want to kill them (which was frequent), they were really fun.

Monday, October 3, 2011

ATVs and Udo Island. A winning combination!

This weekend was a 3 day weekend in Korea.  Since I only had 3 weekends left before I go, my friend Jeb and I decided to go visit nearby Udo Island (literally cow island) just off the east coast of Jeju.  We did this A) because we wanted to explore a beautiful interesting island that was conveniently close and B) (and more importantly) because we could rent ATVs and go racing all over the island.  And I do mean ALL OVER.  We only stuck to the roads when we absolutely had to.

We started by working around the coast and stopping for cool photo-ops.  See below.

 Thinking man

 Looks a lot like the Mediterranean huh?

 Inner peace.  Inner peace.

Then after spending half of our 3 hours exploring at a leisurely pace, we found paradise.  After blowing by a sign we later learned meant "do not enter!", we wandered through a combination cow pasture/ancient cemetery.  On the other side was a large, bumpy, wide open field.  And when you're sitting on the back of a powerful 4wheeler, that is pretty much the definition of heaven!  We spent the next half hour tearing around, bouncing every which way and taking the biggest jumps we could find.  It.  Was.  Awesome!

 Big field

Go fast!

When we finished we completed our circuit of the island and realizing we still had a little time, we then proceeded to race back to the other end of the island and then absolutely tore around the coast of Udo as though we were trying to break the island speed record.  We got back with almost 2 minutes to spare and then headed for the ferry smiling from ear to ear.  And I'd love to go back again.  I'd forgotten just how much fun ATVs can be.

A little basketball, pizza and talking to my girlfriend completed a perfect day.  Now it's time to spend the next two weeks concentrating on finishing teaching and getting ready to go :)