Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer hours

 Hamdeok Beach

This week's update is succinct.  With start of the week came the beginning of summer break for schools in Korea.  Of course summer break doesn't mean quite the same thing here as it does back home.  For one thing, I'm still teaching a few classes and over half the students are still at school at least part of the day.  What it amounts to for me is a normal working morning but I get to leave at lunchtime.  Home by 2pm.  Not a bad gig.

And it gives me more chances to stop by here on the way home

As an added bonus, i've got 2 weeks of vacation in August.  I'm not actually going anywhere for them.  I'm just going to explore Jeju and hang out with friends from orientation who will be down to visit throughout that time.  I'm also trying to setup my next destination and my October trips before coming home.  I'll send out updates when I have solid answers to either of these questions.  Till next time.

 By the way, this is how Koreans usually dress when they go to the beach to go swimming

 Seems crazy right but remember, they like their skin as white as possible

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Jungmun Beach (and other things that make me happy)

This is Jungmun Beach.  More on it in a minute.

Some weeks are better than others.  This last week was one of those better ones.  It started with the realization that my small school has a ping-pong table upstairs and quite a few teachers ready and willing to play with me.  This has helped instantly improve my relationship with almost all the teachers at my school and has provided the kids with some quality entertainment at lunch.

This is not related to the current topic at all but look at this crazy, ubiquitous tractor they use here.

This led into a bright sunny weekend where my friend Jason and I joined a gym.  He wants to learn how to lift weights and i'm more than happy to teach him.  Besides it's a good excuse for me to get back into shape too :)  To top it off, a Quiznos just opened here. Our post workout meal there was a delight few can comprehend who have not been without their native food for at least a year.  Even though it's 30 minutes away from my home, it's safe to say I'll be visiting there frequently.

Now good as the week had been up til then, Sunday was the pièce de résistance, a visit to Jungmun Beach.  Jungmun is the best surfing beach on Jeju.  It comes complete with soft sand, green hills, scenic views and huge waves.  A group of us went down at the peak of their power to try our hands at bodysurfing. 

I thought i'd bodysurfed before.  I was wrong.  The difference between riding normal waves and these, was like the difference between a waterpistol and a shotgun.  Many times I was standing in water less than a foot deep when suddenly an incoming wave would break 4 feet ABOVE my head.  When that happens you get thrown around completely beyond your control and you just hope A) I don't hit anyone  B) I don't swallow/breath too much water. 

Here are 6 of us (plus a very brave kid) waiting for the wave to break

And here we are literally 4 seconds later

When the waves were slightly smaller, say only breaking around head/shoulder height, we would jump into them and ride them to shore.  My personal record for the day was around 40 ft off a single wave.  30ft I hit routinely.  (Note: my personal preference is to ride in on my butt with my legs out.  Anything else resulted in me getting badly scraped up and bruised).  3 hours, a multitude of bumps, contusions, injuries and a nice sunburn later, we headed home.  And I can't wait to go back :) 

For now here are some more pictures and a video of one of the smaller waves we encountered.  If you are reading this by email, you might have to go to my actual blog to see the video.  For everyone else, enjoy!

Notice how powerful both the initial wave and the undertow are.  I saw retreating waves drag people 30 ft out (until the next surge hit)

sandy wave

racing back out to catch the next big wave


This is right before they made us get out of the water because the waves were getting too big

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Visiting Seoul again (including an outsiders perspective on the American Military Base)

(Optional additional title - "Ch. 5: Where is Gyeongbokgung?")

Jason, Erik and I at Gyeongbokgung Palace

First, let me start off by saying I enjoyed my weekend in Seoul.  Getting western food again was great.  Jason's friend Matt was a great host and was kind enough to let the three of us crash at his place.  We got to visit the main palace in the city, Gyeongbokgung, do some outdoor shopping and enjoy a couple fun evenings out.

We stayed on the American Military Base in the heart of Seoul.  Being there felt disconnected from reality.  On the one hand, almost everything was either similar or exactly the same as it was in the US.  There were houses with yards, people drove everywhere, everyone spoke English and the restaurants were all familiar.  But on the flip side, there were just enough differences to make it all feel unnerving.  This doesn't normally occur when traveling because everything is so different that unusual feels normal.  Despite far nicer than my accommodations, I don't think i'd want to live there.  I prefer a more authentic experience.  If I wanted to live somewhere just like America, I'd go back!  But it sure was nice to visit.

I also saw a bit of why many South Koreans quietly resent Americans.  By staying on the base, I saw a place where the only outsiders are usually politicians and attractive young women (given the base is populated by diplomats and soldiers, it shouldn't be hard to figure out how either group gets in).  If more Koreans saw it, I doubt i'd get as warm a reception as I have.

To understand why, think about how Americans would feel if the French took over Central Park in New York City.  Then they built a huge wall around it, erected houses complete with yards all over it (and remember NO ONE has a house in either NYC or Seoul), consumed tons of resources and left only long enough to pick up women and start fights.  Now reduce America to just New York state.  So the most valuable real-estate in the heart of your most important city is being occupied by foreigners who are generally perceived as wasteful, obnoxious and are only there as symbolic protection.  This is roughly how Koreans feel.

I also noticed people were noticably colder towards me there than they are here.  I suspect that is partially due to the real and imagined bad-behavior of the soldiers there and partially due to big city indifference.  I suspect a bit more of the latter since their demeanor radically shifted when I mentioned I was a teacher on Jeju.  Again despite the drastically improved level of English and improved supply of attractive women in Seoul, I'm still happy I live on Jeju.  The open, curious and friendly approach people take to foreigners here is quite endearing.

For now I've got 2 more weeks until the summer session and a seriously reduced workload begins (note: I will be spending the same amount of time at school, just with less to do).  I don't know if this is necessarily a good thing but me being me, I'll find a way to enjoy it.  For now i've got a couple kids that need a demonstration of ninja skills followed by a serious scare.

PS.  I also found a little something I haven't seen overseas until now.  It's currently bringing me great joy!

Rule #32 once again put into practice!  (if you can't remember what rule #32 is, refer to my previous posts)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Even the morning commute can be hazardous

Just a quick story.  This morning I was riding to work with my Korean friend Dong He, the taekwondo instructor at my school.  He was driving in his usual manner, ie) skillfully and faster than his sad car was actually capable of moving.  While zipping down the road, a driver pulled out in front of him and did not accelerate properly.  Dong He proceeded to blow by him on our 2 lane road, narrowly avoiding a head on collision with a driver going the other way.

When they reached a light.  The passed car pulled up next to us and started making rude gestures.  Dong He replied in kind.  The other driver then accelerated and twice cut us off so sharply that I think he was trying to hit us.  The two enraged wheel-men proceeded to have a high speed chase (read 2x the speed limit) in traffic for the next 10 miles.  In fact we blew right past the school just so Dong He could continue trying to chase the guy and do lord knows what to him if he caught him (remember this is a 3rd degree taekwondo blackbelt).

Fortunately for the guy's life and my timeliness, the he lost us at a stoplight.  We were forced to turn back.  The funny thing is, Dong He is a very skilled driver.  Aggressive and a little crazy but a skilled driver.  The fact that i'm here to write this is proof. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Drawings and beaches and Seoul

Ordinarily I would write what I want to say here.  For this first item, I'll just show you.

I couldn't stop smiling after finding a couple of my girls drawing this.

Aside from my wonderful students, my news lately has centered around finding a great new beach and my trip this weekend to Seoul.  I'm leaving Friday and going with my two best friends on Jeju, Jason and Erik.  And because Jason has a friend at the embassy, we are staying for free with him on the American military base.  We'll use the weekend to eat great food, explore the city and possibly do a little shopping.  I definitely can't wait!

The Spring semester ends in just over two weeks and I'm definitely looking forward to it.  Unlike winter, I will have to come to school during this break but the work will mostly be limited to desk-warming, movie-watching and time-killing.  Any suggestions for books, tv shows or movies I could use to pass the time would be greatly appreciated.

Since I'm going to have more time, including 2 weeks off with no solid plans, I've been looking at all the beaches I can.  In the town of Woljeong right behind my bigger school, i discovered this beach.  I can't wait to explore it further :)