Tuesday, May 31, 2011

First week frazzles

It's week one of our summer term and things have been busy busy lately. I'm teaching three new classes including a class called Speaking and Writing that's specifically geared toward helping students prepare for taking the TOEFL exam someday. I honestly didn't even know that class existed until I found out during week 13 that I would be teaching it, so I'm feeling slightly overwhelmed. It will actually be a nice change since it's completely different from everything else I teach but since it's so new to me I'm already looking forward to getting that first class it of over and done with.

It's also that time when old teachers leave and new teachers arrive so there's been a lot of coworker get-togethers lately. Those tend to go well into the night so I've been pretty tired and just haven't had a chance to sit down and update much here. But things have been going well. The weather is amazing right now and for the past couple weekends a few of us went on trips with Adventure Korea, a group that basically organizes outings to different places in the country. So I have loads of pictures and things to share and hopefully once this first week is over I'll have some down time to take care of that. 

Last week was also a bit crazy because my boyfriend and I were finalizing vacation plans. Trying to decide on flights and hotels though while you're talking over Skype with a crummy connection really doesn't make for smooth planning. But we're all booked now! We have non-stop flights to and from Vietnam and just finished booking hotels for the week. We're starting the week in Hanoi, traveling down to Hue for a few days, and then coming back up to Hanoi to fly out. We also considered Ho Chi Minh which would have been awesome but I don't think a week would be enough to see all that and there's no point in rushing around to different cities just to say you saw them if you won't actually get to see much of them.

So that's what's been going on lately. Nothing crazy exciting, just keeping busy and enjoying the springtime and tackling new classes. Much more interesting updates to come soon!

Trivia of the Day: Park Chan-wook (박찬욱)) is a South Korean film director, screenwriter, producer, and former film critic. One of the most acclaimed and popular filmmakers in his native country, Park is most known for his films Joint Security Area, Thirst and what has become known as The Vengeance Trilogy, consisting of 2002's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy in 2003 and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance in 2005. His films are noted for their immaculate framing and often brutal subject matter.Despite extreme violence in his films, Park is regarded as one of the most popular film directors in Korea, with three of his last five feature films (Joint Security Area, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) all drawing audiences of over 3 million. This makes Park the director of three films in the thirty all-time highest grossing films in South Korea. In addition to being a film director and screenwriter, Park is also a film critic with several published editions to his name. None have been translated into English as yet.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sunday promenade

Since my mom only had one full weekend during her visit, I wanted to make the most of those days. During the week we managed to see a lot but when we went into the city I had to scurry back early for work. So Sunday we opted to spend the day somewhere that had lots to see and would be relaxing as well:
The Zoo! Well, technically it's called Seoul Grand Park and the whole area includes the zoo, a botanical garden, an amusement park called SeoulLand, and the Seoul Museum of Modern Art. Brianna and I had come here the weekend before to see a flower festival but by the time we arrived the zoo was closing so we hit up the Museum of Modern Art instead.

I was psyched to come back for the zoo though because it turns out it's a wonderful zoo. Tons of animals and what appear to be pretty good facilities and even though it was a beautiful Sunday the crowds weren't overwhelming. The park is really easy to get to since it has it's own stop on the subway (line 4) and when you go out exit 2 you just walk straight ahead, you can't miss it.

Walking up to the entrance of the park my mom got to experience what, in my probably not singular opinion, is the absolute worst smell in Korea: BUNDAEGI. Basically bundaegi is a snack of silkworm pupae that's cooked in these huge metal bowls in some sort of broth. I've seen bundaegi served at restaurants but when it's are just a spoonful of it on a plate it doesn't bother me much. I won't eat it because I'm not interested but I don't run away from the table screaming either. When it's cooking in those giant steaming hot pots though with that smell literally wafting after you for a mile? It's enough to warrant a gas mask. People who have eaten them say they don't taste as bad as they smell but I honestly don't know how anyone can get past the smell to buy a cup of it.

So anyway as you're walking up to the entrance of the park you pass a lady with a little stand set up, selling things like veggies and fruits and bleh, bundaegi. All the steam coming off the pot sends that smell your way so you have to hurry past her to get out of reach to breathe some non-bundaegi stinking air. Except then there's another bundaegi lady with a big old pot of it, yelling for you to come buy some. You run by her only to see another bundaegi seller is coming up and you'll have to go by her too. I swear it's like a bundaegi gauntlet. There must be at least six or seven ladies serving up big pots of bundaegi along the pathway that leads to Seoul Grand Park. Besides the horrible smell, I can't even fathom how these women make any sort of profit with that kind of competition. I'd have taken a picture of how ridiculous it is but honestly, as soon as I smell that smell I hightail it out of there.

After surviving the walk to the park, we purchased our tickets, which included a ride on the tram up to the zoo, zoo admission, and a ride on the cable car (₩8,000). It was a really nice day. We were there for maybe six hours, grabbed a few snacks from the convenience store in between, and grabbed pizzas on the way home. I tend to go even crazier with pictures when I'm at the zoo, so I'll narrow it down as best as I can.
Fennec Fox.
Korean Magpie, or ggachee (까치).
In the Ape Jungle area there is an actual chimpanzee nursery and it is the cutest thing ever. These ladies were rocking two baby chimps in a crib. One of them was bigger and they took it out to hold it but the other was just a newbie and it was clinging to a stuffed animal. Too too cute. 
The Botanical Gardens.
Um, pretty sure they hired the same designer who gave us the Bible Expo....
This picture is crummy quality but this frog is the best! Look at his little elbow propped up on the edge of the pond. He looks like such a gangster frog, like he's about to call a meeting regarding a hit on somebody. I hope it was about one of the snakes next door, they're gross. 
When we came by the tiger area it was feeding time. It was the weirdest thing because there was an announcer going on and on and of course we didn't understand a word of it and then out of nowhere someone would chuck a whole raw chicken over the wall from above and it would land on the sand with a SPLAT! and then the tigers would come running for it.
Otters! I could watch them swim all day.
Okay so the dolphin show was hilarious. Clearly it's aimed at kids so the storyline for the seal portion was ridiculous but cute. I was pretty impressed at the tricks they were doing and the trainers seemed to really enjoy their jobs. Mostly I enjoyed my mom's reaction to the snack sellers though. Instead of something like cotton candy, it's not uncommon here at some sort of show for someone to walk around selling steamed corn on a stick. And to be honest that's probably the best way to get corn in Korea. They put it on pizza (I always ask for it without) but all they have at the store is canned corn which is just as awful as it is in the US. Stick corn it is then!
We skipped the birds because birds are boring but their aviary was impressive! It reminded me of the pterodactyl cage from Jurassic Park 3
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is no place that Korean girls will not show up to in heels. Apparently they even wear them to the beach. Also it's not at all unusual to see their boyfriends carrying/wearing their purses for them. I was pleased to capture both of these facts on camera.
Playground area with elephant slide and climber.
Taking the chair lift back down from the zoo.
Unfortunately it was a really hazy day so my pictures couldn't really capture how nice the surrounding area is. I read the next day though that it was the year's worst yellow dust storm so that sort of explains it:
Asian Dust (also yellow dust, yellow sand, yellow wind or China dust storms) is a seasonal meteorological phenomenon which affects much of East Asia sporadically during the springtime months. The dust originates in the deserts of Mongolia, northern China and Kazakhstan where high-speed surface winds and intense dust storms kick up dense clouds of fine, dry soil particles. These clouds are then carried eastward by prevailing winds and pass over China, North and South Korea, and Japan, as well as parts of the Russian Far East. Sometimes, the airborne particulates are carried much further, in significant concentrations which affect air quality as far east as the United States.
I was pretty happy that it worked out to be such a nice zoo day. Usually the animals are all passed out or hiding out in cooler areas inside but they were all out and about that day. And active too. We saw a bear taking a huge poop right in front of the spectator area, a male lion randomly start humping a female who was not interested at all, some monkeys wrestling, tigers eating lunch, tortoises actually attempting movement, and lots of other things. I hate when people go to zoos and bang on the glass or something to get an animal's attention but obviously it is more interesting when they're doing something besides just sleeping.

And now I'm off to bed since I'll be waking up at 5:30am tomorrow for a weekend trip to the number one place on my "Things to do in Korea List"! More on that when I get back :)

Trivia of the Day: The Ho-Am Prize is a Korean annual award awarded to "domestic/abroad ethnic Korean who have made outstanding contributions to the development of science and culture and enhancement of the welfare of mankind," often referred to as the Korean equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Awarded since 1991, it is funded by Samsung and named after their former chairman, Lee Byung-chull (Ho-Am is his pen name which means "filling up a space with clear water as lakes do, and being unshakable as a large rock").
The award consists of a 6 oz gold medal, a laureate diploma, and 200 million Korean won (approximately $200,000 US dollars). The prize is currently awarded in five fields: Science, Engineering, Medicine, the Arts, and Community Service.