Monday, June 28, 2010

Gunsan Promotional Video

We have a "Gunsan Culture" class at my school, and this is a promotional video they show that was put out by the city of Gunsan. It is pretty ridiculous. It makes this gritty, industrial place truly sound like a "Dream Hub" while using too many repeated adjectives and not enough full sentences. Some of my favorite quotes from the video include:

"An optimum industrial cluster facilitating highly technological infrastructures. Facilitated by a perfect transportation infrastructure, providing the perfect infrastructure for building the world's largest distribution network."

"A global enterprise city built on trust, spurring a prosperous future competitiveness through its dreams." (??)

"Warm scenery, melting the heart and soul."

Also, please note how little actual footage of the city there is. Most of what they show are computer graphics. Hmm. Well, it's only 8 minutes and somewhat informative.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Urban Getaway

I headed up to Seoul for the weekend for my friend Leandra's birthday. She lives in Gunsan but wanted to celebrates in the big city, so we got a group together and trickled up there separately. I always want to do a million things in Seoul, but the weekends are short and the city is large, and even on a comprehensive subway it takes a long time to get anywhere. No matter what I end up doing, it's nice to have a change of scenery and step into such a pulsing urban setting. Equally though, it is crowded and hectic and more expensive and I'm probably happier visiting than residing there. I did make it to Changdeokgung 창덕궁 Palace with a few friends and saw the Secret Garden. These royal gardens are a 70 acre oasis in the city, that you can only visit by guided tour.

Afterward we went to Itaewon, an international district, to do some shopping for English books and groceries. I brought my big backpack to Seoul specifically to fill with groceries I can't find in Gunsan. At the foreign market I got polenta, lentils, black tea, nuts, curry powder, coconut, and sharp cheddar. Glorious, glorious cheese. I am a big believer in "When in Rome"... and I like Korean food a lot... but I do miss all the variety of food that is available at home. It's much harder for me to cook here, between having a microscopic kitchen and not having familiar ingredients and spices available. So I stocked up on foreign foods, but my trade-off is to try to learn to cook more Korean food. This week I will get a lesson in going to the butcher and preparing Korean pork, and I also ordered a Korean cookbook.

That evening, our group rendezvoused at our guesthouse in Hongdae. We stayed in this sweet little room that fits 8 people right by the Hongik subway stop, with a loft, kitchen, and view of the city.

We wound through the pedestrian streets of Hongdae to an Italian restaurant where Leandra wanted to go for her birthday. They had a nice outdoor deck, and we sat down in the warm air in the dim light, opened our menus... then it started raining. Pouring. Luckily, they had an open side room with a large table just big enough for our group. It was a nice meal of pastas, salads, and wine, complete with Korean-influenced appetizers, such as apples, smoked ham, cheese, and... gummi bears. Or peppers with sweet pickles. Why must Italian restaurants in Korea always serve sweet pickles? Anyway, with a tiramisu birthday cake it was a great meal.

We finished just before 11pm when the first Round of 16 World Cup game was on- Korea versus Uruguay. We were hoping to find a bar to watch in, but we needed to find a place much earlier. Every public spot was already packed. We went back to the room to watch the game, which was good and Korea played well, though they ended up losing 1-2. Then we headed out to a club for some live music.

On Sunday I met up with my friend Juli from my college study abroad trip in Mexico. We haven't seen each other since going to school in Morelia in 2005! She has been in Seoul for the last 3 years, and we finally got a chance to catch up. She asked what I wanted to eat for lunch- I said "Anything I can't get in Gunsan!" So she took me to her favorite sandwich spot, an adorable European-inspired cafe with fresh pastries, bright walls, rustic wood furniture, and tomatoes growing in pots on window decks. We shared a salmon sandwich and a vegetarian one with roasted veggies on fresh fresh sourdough, both served with a nicely dressed salad of baby greens. We had a great conversation about Korea, slow food, and Italy. She is applying for a Food Science Masters program in Italy, and my dream (for both of us) is to be able to visit her there next year.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Solstice and World Cup

Happy Summer Solstice! (or winter to my friends in the southern hemisphere) It has been warm and humid here for awhile now, but it's nice to know it's officially summer. Gunsan is farther south than Seattle, closer to the latitude of Bakersfield, California. Unfortunately, this means that the summer days aren't quite as long as I'm used to around the solstice. It was dark by about 8:30 today.

But it does mean that summer plans are starting to come together. Nothing definite yet, but I've been kicking around plans for beach weekends, backpacking, and a trip to China. Oh, and my little experimental garden is actually growing! I staked the tomatoes, the peppers are flowering, the cucumber has new leaves, and the radishes, cabbage, and lettuce have all germinated. Summer's bounty is on its way!

So as you probably know, this minor event called the World Cup has been happening the last couple weeks. I'm not usually a sport spectator, but I like soccer and it has been really fun to be living in a soccer-loving country. The second Korea game was against Argentina last Thursday, and I went to a local sports field to watch.

They set up a stage and huge screen, and Korean families turned out en masse with blankets, food, beer, red shirts, and red devil horns to watch the game. The excited buzz in the air was palpable. The Argentinians played much better than the Koreans, though when the score was 2-1 I thought Korea might have a chance. Then Argentina scored two more goals for a painful defeat of 4-1. It was still a blast though, being out in public with so many enthusiastic soccer fans in the warm night air.

Then two nights ago, Korea played Nigeria. It was at 3:30am here, so there was no way I was watching it. But I was woken up at 4:30 to the sound of massive cheers around the neighborhood. Clearly Korea had scored a goal, so that was a good sign. I sighed happily and went back to sleep. The final score was 2-2, giving Korea one win, one loss, and one tie... good enough to send them to the Round of 16!

They are playing one of the first Round of 16 games against Uruguay on Saturday. I will be in Seoul for a friend's birthday, and I'm looking forward to watching the game in the big city.

And finally, last week I heard this quote spoken and I really liked it. Ten points to any one who can tell me who said it.

"Yet time and again we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny.... What sees us through- what has always seen us through- is our strength, our resilience, and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Black Raspberry Festival

This weekend I did my first trip with the tour company Adventure Korea. They are based out of Seoul and do cultural, outdoor, and adventure excursions all over the country. This trip was centered around the Bokbunja (복 분 자) black raspberry that is in season near Gochang, in the southern part of my province. There were about 35 other people in the group, mostly English teachers and mostly foreigners.

We picked our fill of black raspberries on a farm and drank berry slushies in the hot sun. Then we headed to the main event, the Bokbunja Food and Wine Festival. This region is also known for their freshwater eels, which are traditionally eaten with the bokbunja liquor. We had the chance to try to catch live eels in this big pool. The pool also had black raspberries, so the water was completely opaque and you could feel berry pulp brushing your legs. Any eels you caught you got to keep. At first I thought the whole thing was kind of hokey, but once they dropped the bag of eels into the water and I got over my squeamishness of the slippery creatures, I got really into it and the huntress emerged. I wanted an eel! Must catch my own meat! But they were really difficult to catch. Not that it would have been probable to keep it for the rest of the weekend and take it home anyway...

Then we walked around to explore the myriad of food and drinks. The bokbunja beverages ranged from fruit punch to beer to cloudy rice wine to the classic liquor, which was sort of like a fortified wine or not-too-sweet dessert liquor.

We tried some tempura ginseng with a bokbunja dipping sauce. Whoa, straight ginseng is way too intense for me, but probably good for health. Then we had eel, live a moment ago and cleaned and grilled in front of us. I like the eel I've had in the States, and this was good as well, if quite fatty. As with any Korean BBQ, it was served with dipping sauces, raw ginger and garlic, and lettuce leaves for wrapping.

Then to Seonunsa Temple which was beautiful, and admittedly similar to every other Buddhist temple I have seen in Korea. I would have loved more guiding on the trip, more explanation of history and cultural significance, but mostly we were left to our own ponderings. Other people I talked to on this trip said that there was more narration in the past, and this trip was not typical in that way.

Things started to get even stranger in the evening. The post-dinner activity had been billed as a bokbunja wine and costume party, so I assumed it would be just our tour group in silly costumes. But no, we were taken back to the festival and seated at tables in the front of the tent, a huge group of conspicuous foreigners in front of Korean families not in costume. We drank the local berry wine, which some in the group downed like we were at a frat party. Local press, photographers, and film crews were documenting the crazy foreigners all evening. It was a little uncomfortable and embarrassing, not quite what I had envisioned. The entertainment of music, juggling, fire show, and dancing was too loud to have a very decent conversation with any one around me. Finally it turned into a dance party, both foreigners and Koreans, and I danced for a bit before heading to a noraebang (karaoke) with a more mellow crowd.

Sunday morning we headed to the beach, on the Yellow Sea. Unfortunately it was a cool and cloudy day, but still nice to be by the water. People in the group who had done Adventure Korea trips before said this wasn't a bad trip, but probably the most disjointed and least pleasant one they'd been on. I had a good weekend, though not spectacular, and I would consider doing another trip with them in the future. It was nice (and a bit intense) to meet so many other foreign English teachers at once. There were so many interesting and funny people in the group, from such different backgrounds, but all in this country doing a similar thing for a blip of time. We have our small handful of foreigners in Gunsan, but this big group was like a whole other world. In a way it made me wish I worked in Seoul, where one girl plays live music, another is in a book club, another a Salsa dancing club, another can find good Mexican food... all things that aren't part of my daily life. But when the weekend was over, I was quite happy to head home to my sleepy Gunsan.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Go Korea! Fighting!

No, the title of this post has nothing to do with North Korea. I'm talking about the World Cup! "Fighting" is a Konglish word- Konglish being the use of English words in a Korea context. For instance, to Koreans, "fighting" actually means "go team!" or "victory!" More about Konglish in a later post.

Friday night was the opening ceremony for the World Cup in South Africa, and this weekend I think all of Korea was watching the games. I'm not a huge sports fan, but I like watching soccer and it's fun to be in a country where soccer is a popluar sport. The first Korea game was against Greece, at 8:30 Saturday night. My coworker had a BBQ potluck, and we watched the game at his house while most Gunsan citizens were out in a park, cafe or bar wearing red and showing their support. I did my part by making this zucchini bread for the potluck.

My friend Jason wins for the most spirit with his "All the Reds" shirt, bandana, and Korean flag cape. It was indeed joyous when Korea won easily to Greece, 2-0. Then the U.S.-England game was on at 3:30am after that, and it was quite the rivalry as there are a decent number of Americans and Brits here. Many people stayed up to watch the game, but it was past my bedtime. I was happy to watch the highlights in the morning. Of course I was rooting for my home team, but I didn't think we would win. But I was surprised that we tied, albeit with a sloppy goal that barely happened. But still, cool!

There are two more Korea games in this first round, against Argentina and Nigeria. I am going to try to catch the U.S. and Korea games that are on at a decent hour.

So I'm feeling a lot of spirit for Korea right now, but one place I'm lacking enthusiasm is when it comes to noise. I just moved apartments a few days ago, to a different unit in the same building. Like I said in my last post, my apartment is nice but really loud. I can always hear the shipping/packing lot next door, plus people walking up the stairs and neighbors fighting (actually fighting, not Korean "fighting"). My new unit is on the top floor, on the other side of the building, so it is a little quieter. But now I have no view, and my kitchen is smaller. And I can often still hear neighbors, like the other day at 5:15am when I heard a man yelling and pounding on something. I looked out the window to see this man who had climbed up to a 2nd story window (in flip-flops no less). It's the apartmenet of the couple who I could hear arguing, so I'm guessing he's a husband or ex-boyfriend and had been drinking. I was surprised and sleepy, but I still managed to take a picture. The cops came shortly after this photo, and luckily I was able to go back to sleep.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Living in Little Dragon

Some friends and family have asked about my apartment, so here ya go, some info about where I live. In Korea, all cities are divided into dongs, or neighborhoods, much like we might call Capital Hill, Wallingford, Ballard, etc. in Seattle. I live in Soryong-dong, meaning Little Dragon neighborhood. It's a more residential area off to the side of the "downtown". Here is Gunsan, on the Yellow Sea, with the gigantic Wolmeong Park running down it like an off-center spine. The downtown is the red placemarker and I live on the other side of Wolmeong at the green marker. The yellow placemarker is my school, also in Soryong-dong. So I'm not right in the heart of things, but it's about a 15 minute bike ride to get there.

Here is the main street through Soryong-dong, looking northwest to the industrial area, and immediately past that, the water.

I live on a side street in a small and brand new 4-story apartment building surrounded by little shops, love motels, and some type of industrial shipping/packing yard. It would be a good place to live except this one industrial spot right next door. I guess there isn't a concept of residential and commercial areas being zoned separately. It's like living next door to a construction project that will never end. The big truck backs in to their loading zone with its loud beepers on at exactly 6am Monday through Saturday. This makes me really appreciate noise ordinances back home and the fact that loud work cannot start until 8am. There is always noise of heavy machinery, vehicles, and pounding, often even on Sundays. I'm learning to live with it for the most part but seriously considering moving to a different building if possible in September when this lease is up.

Otherwise, living in Soryong-dong is pleasant. As a foreigner, the reactions on the street are varied, from being ignored, to curious looks, to big smiles. I've made friends with the dry cleaning/alterations man on the block who has hemmed some pants for me and always shouts hello out the door when I'm running by. He also calls me sir which is so endearing I haven't corrected him. "Your pants will be ready tomorrow, sir!"

School-aged kids are definitely more outspoken on the street than adults, as they have had more English education and exposure to foreigners. Often kids will say hello, and if I asked them how they're doing, they will all chime in perfect textbook unison, "I'm fine, how are you?" One time I was riding my bike past some high school students who had to move out of my way, and when I passed, one girl said, "I'm sorry! I love you!"

I realize that probably no one will come to visit me while in Korea. I understand- it's an expensive flight and not a normally hopping tourist destination. I'll be back in less than a year, and I know you can all survive without me for that long. So I will do my best to share the highlights of Gunsan. Hey, how about a tour of my tiny apartment? It won't take long, I promise.

When you walk in, you are in the kitchen.

It's bigger than some of my friends' kitchens, but it's been a challenge learning how to cook in such a small space. I use the top of the refrigerator to dry dishes, and often balance the cutting board over the sink to make more counter space.

The main room has my bed, a dining room table, a small table with convection oven, and built-in closet, drawers, and TV cubby.

The glass doors lead to a little laundry area. It has a new washing machine, height-adjustable clothes-drying racks, and another window to outside. The bathroom is to the right of that, typical Korean-style with a shower head but no separate shower area or curtain. On the downside, water gets all over the bathroom; on the upside, the floor is always clean.

Another plus about living here are all the urban gardens. Koreans are fantastic guerrilla gardeners! If there is an extra plot of land anywhere it will be quickly dug up and planted with onions, cabbages, lettuce, spinach, Asian greens, and peppers. Currently there are snap peas everywhere, bulging on the vine, ready to be harvested. It is so refreshing to be in a bustling, gritty city and yet see small gardens on practically every street. Also, since my building faces west we get great sunsets.