So, Daegu. It's the third largest city in Korea, and home to the textile and fashion industry. Mrs. Lee and I went there for a KOTESOL conference. That stands for "Korean branch of Teaching English to Students of Other Languages." I'd say it was about 50/50 Koreans and foreigners.
I took a variety of seminars, suitable for the variety of ages and skill levels I teach. There were a couple on learning styles and multiple intelligences, which were interesting.
The theory behind multiple intelligences is that standard IQ tests only measure language and math ability, and only from a Western perspective, and that intelligence exists in many other areas.
They've come up with 8 areas so far. Verbal/Linguistic and Logical/Mathematical are the 2 measured in standard IQ tests. The additional ones are Visual/Spatial, Bodily Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal/Intrapersonal, and Naturalist. Apparently they've so recently decided that Naturalist exists that it's not on the test yet, but it does seem to cover a lot of what I know and do.
Of the seven on the test, I only scored well on Verbal/Linguistic, and moderately well on Musical. I did tolerably well on Inter- and Intrapersonal. But I stank on Logical/Mathematical (they obviously don't appreciate my brand of logic <g>), Visual/Spatial, and Bodily/Kinesthetic. (Nabi, on the other hand, scores very well on Bodily/Kinesthetic.)
None of the categories seems to include anything having to do with the textile arts. So maybe there's a 9th category out there that they haven't thought up yet.
There was a seminar on using bingo in the classroom, and it was the most fun one I had. I got lots of good ideas to use with the kids, and the speaker was really enjoyable. It was the only seminar I had with a Korean speaker, but boy, was he lively. Not like I've been led to believe Korean teachers were at all. He had us play some of the bingo games, but so that we could relate to our students better, he had us play them in Korean. I didn't make Bingo, but I did pretty well on word recognition.
The plenary speaker was from England, and talked about the differences between what we see our students do in the classroom, and what they actually learn. It was pretty interesting.
We got dinner after the last session, found a yogwon, and then wandered around for a while. Didn't see anything really exciting, but did stop into a bakery to buy some bread for breakfast the next day. And I had to buy some chocolate cookies they had there, just for the bag they were in. They were proudly labeled "Tasteless Gateau." The opposite of Tastykakes, maybe? I pointed it out to Mrs. Lee, and we both had a good laugh about it, and then she decided to tell the store owner. He didn't believe her at first, but then he laughed too, and said the guy who makes the bags must be stupid. And then he gave us an extra pastry.
Sunday we had to cut out of the conference a little early and go catch our train. I wanted one last stop in the book room, but they were already packing up. We were surprised at that. You'd think that a lot of people would want to do some last-minute shopping towards the end of the conference. Then an uneventful train ride home, and here by 11.
I didn't see much of Daegu, but did get a flyer that mentioned some textile exhibits that run from Oct.10 through 15, so I'll go back the weekend of the 14 and 15 to see them, and see what else I can find out about textiles there.
I have another holiday tomorrow. I might go to Kyongpo for more sand for Nabi's litterbox, and I'm trying to talk Mrs. Lee into bringing the kids so we can build a bonfire and toast marshmallows.
I also need to buy some more cat food. I've gone twice for it now, and haven't been able to find the right pet shop again. I have the worst time with that here (it's that visual/spatial thing), but usually once I find a place twice I'm OK with it after that.
Yesterday was National Foundation Day, so we got a holiday out of it. Apparently it's one of the few holidays that North and South Korea both celebrate. Now there's a thought for unification. Being that neither half is going to want to give up their holidays, maybe the whole peninsula can celebrate both sets, and get twice as many holidays each year.
Koreans are pretty low-key about celebrating holidays. They get the day off from work. Of course, that's unless they work in a shop or a restaurant, or drive a bus or a cab, or fly an airplane, or probably a few other types of jobs. Not unlike the US that way.
Some people do something special with the day off, but mostly they just hang out at home. The towns, and some people put out flags, but that's the only acknowledgement of the day.
On the other hand, I usually try to take advantage of my holidays and do something, even if it's just something small and local. I got a call from Seagull, from the Electric Company class, Monday night. He had been trying to figure out how we could have an end of class party, and it was quite difficult with me not getting off work till 9:00, and traveling on weekends. But he suddenly realized that with a holiday it might be possible, so he called and asked if I would like to go to dinner on Tuesday. I didn't have any other plans yet, so I said sure, and he said he'd call the other class members.
So I had a plan for the evening, and tentatively planned to buy cat food, and to go to Kyongpo for sand during the day.
I went out in the morning to buy the cat food. I had tried 2 times previously to find the place where I had bought it before, and failed, but this time I succeeded. It was a very nice day, and so I also went to the market to buy some green onions. While I was there, I saw an older gentleman selling some straw weavings he had done. He had some baskets, a pair of shoes, and a miniature version of the traditional backpack carriers, called chiggay (or something like that). I have a pair of the shoes, but I'd been wanting one of the chiggay so I could try to make one at home. They seem wonderfully useful, and I see people carrying the most amazingly heavy loads with them. I think one would be perfect for carrying sacks of feed up to the barn. So I got that and one of the baskets.
I got quite a lot of attention walking home with them. People seemed to get a real kick out of it, either because they thought it was funny that I wanted them, or because they recognized it as an appreciation for their traditional culture.
When I got home, Nabi the kitten came running up to greet me. This is the first time this has happened, and it was pretty nice. It's good to have someone to come home to, even though she does get really hyper and rip me to shreds immediately after.
While I was making a cucumber salad I got a call from Randy, to see if I wanted to go have lunch. It sounded like fun, even though I knew I shouldn't eat much (to save my appetite for dinner), so he came over and we went to a little restaurant near here.
Randy's a lot different from Young. He wouldn't presume to come into my apartment without a third person along -- it wouldn't be proper. He wouldn't even come into the building, but waited out in the street.
After lunch I stopped off here to pick up my backpack (western style) and my bags of used kitty litter sand, and we went to Kyongpo to trade for fresh sand. We had a good time. First we walked along the beach for quite a distance. I thought it was all Kyongpo, but every now and then Randy would say that we were on a different beach; apparently the names change as you go along.
I gathered some seaweed, but Randy didn't want any. He said he doesn't make broth at his home. Toward the end of our walk, I filled up my bags with fresh sand. I had dumped the old sand at the beginning of the walk.
We found a nice cafe with a view of the beach and had a drink, ginseng tea for me, and beer for Randy. Then he walked me to the bus stop and waited with me for the bus to come. He said his home is only a 20 minute walk from the beach, so he wasn't going to come on the bus with me. So I went home, put away my sand and hung up my seaweed to dry, and got ready for dinner.
Seagull hadn't called Randy about dinner, which surprised me, and of course I hadn't known the details about it to tell Randy, so he missed the party. I found out later that Randy had a new phone number, and Seagull didn't know it.
Several members of the class weren't there. Randy, of course; and Cathy, who's off on a 9 week training; Dorothy, who was in Seoul visiting her boyfriend; and Neo, who had just moved to Seoul to be with his wife. Young told Seagull he would be there, but didn't show up until 'way late, but we had Seagull and his wife, Superman, and Devil Woman.
We went to a restaurant near Kyongdong University and had marinated grilled pork, which was excellent, and of course the whole array of side dishes. We went through about 3 bottles of soju. One shot was all I wanted, and the other women didn't drink much, but the men got a little looped.
After dinner it was decided that, since I had never seen a norae-bang (singing room), we should do that, and it turned out there was a norae-bang right beneath the restaurant. I don't know how this compares to karaoke, having never seen karaoke in the US, so anyone who's been to a karaoke bar, please let me know.
A norae-bang is divided up into little individual rooms, maybe big enough for a dozen people if you don't mind fairly close quarters. There were padded benches, I guess you'd call them, in this one, sort of a cross between a bench and a sofa, and a small round table. We pulled up a couple of benches around the table.
There are two books listing all the songs, and on one wall, a bank of equipment including 9 video screens, a couple of speakers, and 2 microphones. The video screens were in a square block
  sort of like that. The three down the left side and across the bottom showed nature scenes, and when the song came on that's where the words came up. The other four showed scenes from what I guess was a Korean action movie. These always showed guys beating each other up, and made quite a contrast to the pictures of flowers and fall foliage. But the center screen wasn't working, so we were missing a fourth of the picture.
When you pick a song, you punch in the numbers and the lights dim, the music starts to blare out, and colored lights start to swirl around the room.I thought the music was too loud for comfort, but at least it could give me the illusion that no-one could hear me singing.
We all took turns picking songs and singing, and no matter how bad the voice, everybody said it was great. I guess that's why Koreans aren't at all shy about singing. It's just the opposite of in the US, where people give you such a hard time about it all your life that you're afraid to open your mouth. Like with so many things, the Korean way is better.
Superman was a real surprise. He was always very quiet in class, and is just a quiet guy in general, but put a mike in his hand and a Korean song on the screen, and he puts on a real show. He's got a really good voice, too. Seagull sang some English songs as well as Korean songs, and it was funny hearing the English songs with a strong Korean accent. There were lots of songs I knew, old American pop songs being very popular in Korea, so I was able to choose to some extent by length -- short songs. Seagull liked to sing along with people, too, and would often come in in harmony. Actually everybody sang along to some extent.
Young finally showed up, bringing beer for all, and he has a surprisingly good voice. He tried to get me to dance with him, but I wouldn't. Not only do I not dance, but I'm still maintaining a policy of not encouraging him. His protestation that it would be OK because we would dance slow didn't change my mind at all. He seemed very surprised, but seeing as how Seagull's wife wouldn't even let Seagull hold her hand in public, I figured I was staying within acceptable behavior in turning him down.
About 11:00 we left. Seagull explained that he was too drunk to drive, and his wife wasn't a good driver, so he wouldn't be able to take me home. He asked Devil Woman to drive me. So we all said goodbye and went home. They are fun people, and if I can think up an excuse, I'd like to get together with them again.
Christina called tonight! You remember, my first friend in Korea. It was good to talk to her, but I still get the idea she's not too happy in her married life. She's lonely and bored, and really wishes she had gotten the chance to study abroad before she got married.
Speaking of being married, Seagull came up with an interesting theory last night, about why there are so many more divorces in the United States than in Korea. It's because in the US, husband and wife spend too much time together. He says in Korea, a man will spend most of his free time with his co-workers and friends, and in the US a man has to spend his free time with his family, and so he never gets rid of the stress from his job. He asked if I agreed with him. I said I thought it was an interesting theory.
One of the neighboring restaurants asked Mrs. Kim if we would translate their menu into English, so Mrs. Lee and I were looking at it today. This is the place that currently has translations like "miced lice vermicelli." Miced lice worms -- yum! I'm not sure getting things right will sound much better. I still don't know what the miced lice are -- we didn't get that far tonight. But the cod head stew (on another part of the menu) sounds nasty, and that's an accurate description. Maybe we could just call it roly poly fish heads and be done with it.
I was bad yesterday about getting my work done, because I was reading (Ivanhoe). I won't be much better today because I stayed up late last night to finish it, and so I slept late this morning, and have to go into work at 1 for a meeting. And I have to finish writing out a test before the meeting. This is starting to sound like a real job. I need to clean house, too. Nabi tracks sand everywhere.
I lost my wallet over the weekend. I must have dropped it while I was paying my fare, getting on the city bus in Kyongju. The most frustrating part about the whole thing is that if someone would have just radioed the bus driver to check on the floor, I probably could have had it back within an hour. But I don't think anybody did. I had to go to the police station and file a report, and they were very nice, of course, and the detective loaned me money to come home on, but I still don't have my wallet, and who knows now if it'll ever turn up. Sigh. Just stupidity on my part. I have to ask Mrs. Lee to take me to Donghae to get a new alien registration card, too.
I went to Andong last weekend with Randy, currently of the 8:00 class, and formerly of the KEPCO (electric company) class. We took the train down on Saturday, and rented a car to get around in. I think I'm going to discourage car renting on any future trips I may take with him, though. His driving made me a little nervous. Nothing bad happened, but he does have a very free interpretation of where his lane might be, and I actually preferred wearing my seat belt for once.
The first place we went to was Dosan Sowon. A Sowon is a Confucian academy, and Dosan Sowon was founded in 1557, and declared a sowon in 1574. It was nice, and very park-like, probably to induce a proper Confucian calmness of mind.
After that we drove around for quite a long time. I'm pretty sure we were more lost than Randy was going to admit, and our destination plans changed several times. Oddly enough, I was the one suggesting looking at a map, and Randy preferred the time honored technique of asking someone for directions, driving for 5 minutes, then asking someone else for directions, then driving for 5 minutes. He didn't hesitate to go up to someone's house and knock on the door to ask directions.
Anyhow, we finally ended up, after about 2 hours of driving, at Pusoksa (Pusok Temple). Looking on the map, it didn't look all that far away from Dosan Sowon, and if we had just headed for the temple in the first place, we probably could have gotten there in a half an hour or less.
Randy had a friend who was a monk at the temple, but when we got there it turned out that his monk friend had moved on to another temple recently. Buddhist monks are different from Christian monks that way. They're not bound to one place, and as part of their monk training, they're supposed to travel to different temples to study.
But we went in and looked around anyway, and it was pretty neat. The temple was founded in 676 (yes, the seventh century), then was burnt down during the 14th century, and rebuilt in 1358. The main hall from this time is still standing, and is the oldest wooden building in Korea. There's a huge Buddha on the altar, which looks gold, but is actually gilt clay.
It's quite an uphill climb to get to the temple from the parking lot. (I know some Americans who would love these temples, but would never want to walk up the hills to get to them.) Then there's a set of steep stairs, a gate, and another set of steep stairs that lead up under a pavilion with a drum, a wooden fish, and a gong hanging in it. These are 3 of the 4 Buddhist instruments; the bell is the fourth one. They had the bell in another, smaller pavilion off to one side.
Pusoksa means "Floating Stone Temple." The temple was founded by a monk, Uisang, who had gone to China to study, and who brought Buddhism back to Korea. While he was in China, the daughter of a Tang courtier fell in love with him, and tipped him off to a Chinese plot to annex Korea. The monk rushed home, and she jumped into the sea. Her spirit was transformed into a dragon and she flew away to follow and watch over him. When a group of villagers refused to cede land to Uisang so he could build the temple, she picked up a huge stone and threatened to crush them with it. The villagers agreed, but she couldn't hold the stone any more, and it crashed to the ground. Pusok Temple's main hall stands where she fell, and the large rock to its west is supposed to be part of the stone she held over the villagers' heads. Thus the temple's name: Pusoksa, "Floating Stone Temple."
We also saw a bush growing near one of the buildings. Uisang apparently accidentally planted it when he took a cane he had been using, and stuck it in the ground outside the building. It took root and grew, and is still alive, and blooms each year, they say, without benefit of rain or dew. It may or may not have ben true in the past, but rain or dew would have a hard time getting to it now, with the cage and locks all around it. I think there must be some groundwater for it; there are springs all over the mountains.
One thing about traveling with Randy is that I have experiences that I otherwise wouldn't. One was seeing the bush and some other small buildings at the temple, because they were away from the main buildings, and I never would have known they were there. Also, he went to ask if we could walk around the administrative buildings, which I never would have done, even if I could speak the language.
We looked around a little, and peeked into the kitchen. There was a woman in there, and she invited us in. We figured it was just so we could look around the kitchen better, but the next thing we knew, she was feeding us! Randy thought the food was pretty bad, but I liked it.
The kitchen was a large rectangular room with a counter running along two sides where you could sit and eat. There was a table with side dishes on it, and a rice cooker at the end of the counter. There was a huge stone trough in the floor along one wall, full of water. It was maybe a foot high, and maybe one and a half bathtubs wide and one and a half bathtubs long. I mean nice big western bathtubs, not short little Korean ones. It had faucets in the side, not directed into the tub, but sticking out, for washing with -- hands, dishes, etc. The tub is the reservoir, and so you wouldn't wash things in it.
About the time we finished eating, I heard the drums playing for the start of the evening ceremony, so we hurried out of there to see it. First they played the drum, then the fish, then the gong. The final instrument was the bell, which was struck I believe 29 times. There's some significance to that number, but don't know what it is. The bell was really something, though. It just resounded forever.
We went into the temple then, and took cushions near the back. There was chanting and beating on this wooden jingle-bell shaped instrument, and lots of standing and bowing. This is more work than it sounds, because the bows are the sit-on-the-floor-and-put- your-head-on-the-ground variety, and they had to start from a standing position each time.
About halfway through the service, Randy suggested we leave. He said it was just a long prayer, and if we stayed for it we wouldn't get the rental car back in time. So we went back into Andong, returned the car, and found a nearby yagwon for the night.
The next day we headed out to the Folk Museum, which was interesting. It had displays of daily life from birth to death. One of the older men at the museum was curious about me, because I was a foreigner, and came up to talk to us. Randy, of course, did all the talking. Apparently the man was surprised to find out I was 41. He thought I was 20. I guess there's a lot to be said for the dim lighting in the museum.
We wanted to go to Hahoe Folk Village next, but we missed the one bus, and had 3 hours to kill before the next one, so we decided to look around town a little. Andong has the ancestral home of a branch of the Kim family still standing, and since Randy is a Kim, he wanted to see it. So we wandered, with Randy asking directions every 5 minutes.
It was a pretty good wander, and along the way I bought a new men's hanbok. Randy thought it was pretty funny that I bought a men's hanbok, but thought it was even funnier when I told him about the merchant at Tano who wouldn't sell me one. Randy said he'd never worn a hanbok before. He didn't think he'd look good in one.
Anyhow, we finally found the old Kim house (or the Kim Old House, as Randy called it). It had a wall around it, and a pavilion built with the floor level with the top of the wall, overlooking the street. There were some kids up in the pavilion, and Randy asked them if we could come in and look around. They said yes, with lots of giggles.
So we went around to the gate and went in. It was a very nice set up: three buildings in a U-formation facing a grassy courtyard, then through another gate, and 3 more buildings in another U-formation facing a grassy courtyard towards the pavilion. The houses were traditional ones in very good shape, still inhabited, and had a big orange cat on the porch. I wouldn't mind having a house like that.
The kids had come down out of the pavilion, so we went up there. It was really nice. You could watch the street, or watch the house and yard. Much more interest than most women or girls of old had; they could only see over the walls by playing on the see saw or swing. And of course women and girls (at least wealthy ones) weren't allowed out. So, in their own way, it looks like the Kim family was pretty progressive.
It being a weekend, there were lots of weddings in towns, and so we got to see lots of women in traditional hanbok walking by. Randy also examined the kids' project, which they'd left up there. Apparently it was some combination art/research project about the Kim family, or maybe the famous member thereof, from whom the kids were apparently descended.
We had been talking about finding some lunch, and I jokingly mentioned that it was too bad we couldn't have lunch delivered there, since it was such a nice place. So Randy gave the kids some money, and sent them off to buy some rice cake in red pepper sauce. This is a common street vendor dish, eaten as a snack, and is called ttokbukgi. This was the first time I'd tried it, because I thought it looked too spicy for me. Well, it was pretty spicy, and I was glad the kids bought large drinks for us all to share, but it wasn't impossible, and in fact was rather sweet. We all sat and ate together and talked (with Randy and the kids doing most of the talking) and took each other's pictures. Quite a contrast with the States, where kids are taught not to talk to strangers, much less invite them in, and if you gave $10 to some strange kids in a strange city, they and the money would probably vanish.
We left not too long after that and went to find some real lunch before the bus to Hahoe. Lunch wasn't very exciting, but it was funny because Randy wanted to try on the hanbok, just to see what he looked like in one. It fit him perfectly, and I thought he looked fine.
We caught the bus to Hahoe Folk Village (Hahoe Ma'ul), and got there with only about an hour to look around before we had to leave to go catch our train. It has a pretty setting. The Nakdong River curves around the village in a mostly closed U -- that's where the name comes from, because Hahoe means "circle of water" -- with mountains on the other side of the river.
The homes in this village are not reproductions, they are actual originals from the early days of the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910), and most are still in use as residences (you can visit many of them, even the ones people are living in).
We didn't have time to see much of Hahoe Ma'ul, and so mostly saw the outskirts, which had mud-walled thatched houses. Apparently further in are the yangban (nobleman) houses, but we didn't see those. There's no industry in Hahoe, so people make their living from farming and tourists.
They did have one really funny thing there, though. Last year Queen Elizabeth came to Korea, and toured Hahoe village. They have a small museum set up to commemorate the visit, with things like the chair she sat in, the guest books she signed, replicas of the gifts they gave her and of the feast they fed her, and lots of pictures of the event. Randy asked, "So, is she really important or something?"
We had an uneventful train ride back to Kangnung, and got in about 10:00. It was a good trip. Some things I didn't see as much of as I might have if I'd gone alone, but I saw a lot that I wouldn't have seen at all by myself.
Schools in Korea periodically have a "sports day," and John's school is having one tomorrow. Mrs. Kim asked if I wanted to come, so I said sure. It might be fun, so I'll try it. John's excited, not only about sports day, but also because he's finally gotten the long awaited computer. No internet yet, but he said he's been playing computer games every day. I hope it doesn't just cause more trouble for Mrs. Kim.
I'll tell you, things are just happening faster than I can type any more. I'll have sports day to write about, still have Andong, Kyongju and Cheju. I should probably stop doing things until I get caught up, but I have a strong feeling of running out of time, and that I need to hurry up and see and do everything. I want to go to Seoul this weekend. There's a fireworks festival on Saturday nights this month, and a fancy public bath (chimchilbang) I want to try, and I might be able to get Christina to go with me.
Sports day was pretty fun. It had a festival, carnival-like atmosphere, which was certainly helped by all the ice cream and cotton candy vendors and toy vendors who were set up just outside the school gates when I arrived.
I was a little early, so I got to just watch things for a while. People were carrying the sitting mats, and huge picnic baskets, and all cheerful and talking. One of the vendors tried to go inside the gates, and ended up in a pushing match with someone who wouldn't let him in. The vendor lost, but won in the long run. As soon as the one guy was out of sight, he pushed his cart on in, and so did all the other vendors. Kind of at a run, probably figuring that if they all were in and set up before they got caught, they wouldn't have to leave. It must have worked -- they were still there when it was over.
The sports were done by grades. A lot of it was dancing, and there were relay races, tug of war, team jump rope -- Mostly team games. I saw some races, but they were kind of ongoing while other things were happening too, and were the only individual sport I saw.
One dance or game had girls in hanbok. They danced around for a while, then formed two lines and bent over, and a girl, helped by 2 others, walked across the other girls' backs, hopped down and ran to the judge with a baton. Each team had 2 girls walk across the backs. It was pretty neat to watch, and is actually a game that Randy had explained to me while we were in the Folk Museum in Andong.
Another game involved 2 teams, and the object was to get to your team's finish line with a balloon tied to your ankle, stomp as many opponents' balloons as possible, and not get yours stomped. The team with the most balloons left at the end won.
There was a game that reminded me of Chicken. 2 teams again, and within each team groups of 4 boys. One boy on another boy's shoulders, and the other two helping balance him. And then a general melee, with trying to knock each other over. One game had sort of a goalpost-looking thing with two uprights, and it was swarmed by girls carrying hula hoops, which they tossed up onto the goal posts. The team with the most hula hoops hooked onto the uprights won.
There were a couple of beanbag games. One had two balls hanging from posts, and kids threw beanbags at them until one came open and a banner fluttered down. The other, which was played by the kids' grandparents, involved suspended buckets that they tossed beanbags into. The team that got the most beanbags in won.
Another game involved a ball as big as the kids. It was a relay, and groups had to roll the ball around the judge and back to the next group, who then took a turn until all the groups did it. The team that finished first won.
The vendor in front of where we were sitting was doing a booming business in ice cream (in spite of the fact that it was pretty chilly), cotton candy, and silkworm pupae.
Silkworm pupae are a real treat here. They were being sold at Tano, and are available at Kyongpo, too. I think they're just another common streetside snack. The kids snarfed them up. They chose to buy them, over the other choices of ice cream or cotton candy. I've considered being adventurous and trying them myself, but aside from the fact that they're ugly and they're bugs, they also smell awful (to me). So that makes two things I haven't wanted to try, fish heads (and specifically fish eyes) being the other.
I took the bus to Seoul on Saturday, because there's a fireworks festival on Saturday nights this month, and I thought it would be fun to see.
Of course I got there well before the fireworks started, so I went to Namdaemun Market, which had been highly recommended to me. Namdaemun market was OK, but not really exciting. It was big, I'll give it that, but I liked Kwangjang Market better, as having more things I was interested in. Namdaemun Market was heavy on clothes, luggage, wallets and purses, with a few more interesting things scattered here and there, including ginseng. I know I didn't see all of it, so there might have been more interesting stuff somewhere.
When evening came I headed toward Yoido for the fireworks. I've never seen such a full subway as was headed towards Yoido. It was jampacked, with people shoving everybody else so they could get on, and even then not everyone made it. I wasn't too worried when I missed the first subway, and caught the second, but it was just as crowded. People were shoving awfully hard, and I had to do some major shoving back to keep from stepping on some poor baby in a stroller. When I got to the station, it was just as bad as the subway. I've never seen such a seething mass of humanity. It was solid people all the way up the stairs, and even outside the subway itself.
Where I got out, in Yoinaru, overlooked a park on the Han river. There were fireworks going off, and for a while I thought this was the display, but it was just people in the park buying fireworks and setting them off themselves for fun. And there were enough people doing it that it did make a pretty good display on its own. These are pretty small fireworks, just one spark of color that flies up and then pops, but when you have a few hundred people shooting them off at once, it looks pretty good.
I found a seat on the edge of a bank near some bushes that wasn't too crowded. With the usual Korean generosity, the lady sitting next to me shared her snacks with me. We sat and watched the small fireworks for a while, and eventually the real display started. This seemed to cause a mass migration in the crowd, and I couldn't see anymore, so I got up and moved to higher ground, which ended up being on the sidewalk by the subway entrance. Again, or still, it was a seething mass of humanity, and hardly anyone was holding still. I saw no point in walking during the whole display, and finally succeeded in holding my ground by leaning against the railings that keep people from falling into the subway pit, holding tight onto the railings, and shoving back. Some people were sitting or standing on the railings, but I would have been afraid of being shoved over.
Anyway, the fireworks were great. It was a display of fireworks from Korea, China, Japan and the US. (Which of these doesn't belong?) They seem to have just shot them off at random, and I have no idea which were which, but I enjoyed them all.
They don't kid around with their fireworks. The whole show was like the grand finale from a 4th of July celebration. There were some neat fireworks that made like a flat circle, and at least one time that I noticed the flat circle went around a ball, so it looked like Saturn.
After the fireworks the seething mass headed down the subway. Having been crushed enough for one night, I killed time by wandering around in the park. It seems like a pretty nice one, and there were still lots of people picnicing and shooting off fireworks. The fireworks were long tubes, with a fuse at the top of the tube. When it's set off, anywhere from 7 to 14 fireworks shoot out, one after another. People held the tubes and aimed them. Looked like fun, but probably not within US safety standards.
Eventually the crowd at the subway thinned out, and I headed down. I had read about a fancy public bath (chimchilbang) called Crystal in Sincheon, and it was open 24 hours and had sleeping rooms, so I thought I'd go there for the night. So I took the subway to Sincheon, which was quite a ways away, and got there just when the subways closed down for the night. The main landmark on the directions to get there was a university, so I thought I'd just take a cab there, but I decided to walk for a while first. There were street signs, but none of them mentioned the university, so eventually I stopped a bunch of students at a bus stop and asked them where it was. Well, it turned out that it wasn't in Sincheon at all, but was in Sinchon, which was not far from Yoido where I was in the first place. I thought the best thing to do would be to find a yagwon and go there in the morning if I still felt like it, but one girl said it would be cheaper to take a cab there than to get a room in a yagwon.
I started to go look for a cab, but then I noticed a girl sitting near the bus stop crying. I asked her if she was OK and she said yes, but she kept on crying and I felt funny about leaving her. So I sat down next to her for a while. Eventually her curiosity overtook her crying, and she asked where I was going, so as best as I could I explained what had happened. Once she understood, she insisted that her boyfriend would drive me there. I kept saying I would take a cab, but it's hard to argue with someone when you're not sure exactly what she's saying in the first place. Whatever, it cheered her up significantly. She was quite a talker, 99% in Korean, and she talked fast, so I only understood a tiny fraction of anything she said. She pulled out all of her English, which was just a little, but it did help.
Somewhere along the way she told me her nickname, which is Ttung-tayng-i. I don't know what that means. She called her boyfriend Crazy Ttung-tayng-i. She gave me a nicname too. I forget the Korean for it, but it means Small Face.
After she found out my age, she asked if she could be my sister, and then called me Enni, older sister. She was a lot of fun, and I wish I knew more of what she said, because I bet it was even better than the little bit I understood.
Anyway, her boyfriend finally showed up, and seemed really nice, and agreed to drive me to Sinchon, even though it was far away and the middle of the night. We drove there, and I was all for letting them go (I felt bad enough about dragging them there in the first place), but Ttung-tayng-i hopped out of the car to ask someone where the Crystal was. No one had heard of it. We knew we were in the right area, because the university was near there. But nobody knew about the chimchilbang.
After about 5 tries to find it, Ttung-tayng-i's boyfriend was getting much less thrilled, and I don't blame him. But it was hard to stop her; she was a Woman with a Quest. Kind of reminded me of Sir Cadogan in the 3rd Harry Potter book.
I finally convinced her that her boyfriend was tired and I could just take a cab, and once she found a cab that would take me, she went off. I took the cab to the main gate of the university, because the directions said the chimchilbang was right across from there, but there was no sign of it. It occurred to me that there might have been another gate, but by then I was tired, it was almost 2:00am, and I was ready to give up. I caught a cab and asked him to take me to a yagwon.
It turns out that Sinchon is a pretty high rent district. The cheapest yagwon I found was 40,000 won for the night, and the others were 45,000. Several were full up. This is quite a contrast to the other times I stayed in Seoul, when it was closer to 25,000 won.
The next morning I went to Insa-Dong. I had read that there were traditional tea rooms there where they did the tea ceremony, and I thought that would be neat. When I got off the subway, the first thing I saw was what looked like a small street fair. One booth sold traditional Korean instruments, the next one electric guitars and speakers. I saw a Buddhist monk carefully examining one of the speakers, which struck me as pretty funny.
There was an African booth, and one from Peru, and one selling hanboks, but they wanted 50,000 won for them, which I thought was too much. And there was one where they were making some kind of food, and it was truly amazing to watch. There were 2 men there. One took a lump of something, and dropped it into a pile of powdered sugar and started pulling. He would pull and fold and twist and pull, dropping it back into the powdered sugar periodically. When he finished, this solid brown lump had transformed into what looked like a shein of reeled silk. The second man would take this skein and pull off a little bit, like a spinner would pull off a short piece of roving to spin into yarn. Then he took an implement that had a spoon on one end, and 2 prongs like a tuning fork on the other. He'd spoon a bit of filling onto the roving, take the tuning fork end and use that to roll the whole thing up. It came out looking like a cocoon. I bought a box just to see what it was, and took it into the hagwon to share. As I'd suspected, it was candy. Spun sugar with peanut filling. Mrs. Lee translated the name on the box for me. It came out to "Honey Skeins."
Back to Insa-Dong. As I wandered, I noticed more and more older men, quite a few of them in hanboks. Not many of the cheap hanboks like I buy, either. Several were fancy silk ones. Then I saw a wall. Part of it was stone wall, and part of it was metal fence, and I could see tons of old men all lined up. Every now and then I'd pass a gate, but they were all closed. I walked around the corner and eventually came to the main gate, which was open. There was a sign by it. It said that this was a park that was established in 1800-and-something, as the first western- style park in Korea. It was on an old temple ground. The pagoda from the temple was still there, and is the only one that I've seen encased in plexiglass to protect it from the elements.
I was hesitant to go into the park at first, because it was just full of older men, and I thought maybe it was reserved for them. But I saw one or two women, and a couple of younger people, so I went in, figuring at worst they would kick me out.
Well, if Sinchon is the high rent district, I was now in the "old man district." The park had more of them than I've seen in one place in my life. Maybe this is the one place where they can feel like it's the old days, when old men were respected and got to do proper old man stuff. They were playing paduk and chess, and some were doing Chinese calligraphy. There were lots of people watching, although I never thought of calligraphy as a spectator sport.
Some old men were getting haircuts, and that was nearly the longest line I saw, but I couldn't imagine standing in line for ages just to get a free haircut. And sure enough, even after the haircuts stopped, the line was still there. I never did figure out what it was for, although at one point the first 20 or so men in line walked out the park gate together.
One old man greeted me and welcomed me to Korea, and we talked for a little bit. Then a friend of his joined us, and asked if he could get some help on some English language questions he had. Of course I was happy to help him, and he pulled a paper out of his pocket with the questions written on it. Do you suppose he always carries his questions around, just on the off chance that he might meet a native English speaker?
After I left the men I looked around the park a little more, and then headed in the direction they had shown me to Insa-dong proper. It was pretty neat, more what I would consider an art district than anything else. There were art galleries and tea shops (selling tea implements and tea), and the greatest stationery stores.
I got a tea set hand made from bamboo, which was a pretty big splurge. I loved the stationery stores. They had the best paper. I was tempted to buy sheets and sheets of it just because it was so neat, but restrained myself by reminding myself that I had no purpose in mind for it. They were wonderful handmade papers, though.
The stationers also sold calligraphy brushes and inkstones. I was tempted by the inkstones, but they were very expensive. The smallest, plainest, cheapest one I saw was 20,000 won, and the interesting ones were up to 500,000 won. It's easy to see that calligraphy was and is a rich man's hobby.
I never did make it to a tea room. About the time I was thinking I ought to go ahead and find one, I also started thinking I'd enjoy it a lot more with someone else along. So I just wandered more, and eventually wandered into the Buddhist district. It was full of Buddhist stores, and there were a lot of monks wandering around, and I found a large temple that was having a service. So I hung out in the temple grounds listening to the chanting for a while. I enjoy that. And when I got tired of that, I went and found some lunch and headed home.
I'd have to say, of the different parts of Seoul I've been to, I like Insa-dong best.
Sorry I didn't write much today. I cleaned house instead, and it took extra long because Nabi helped.
I had to go to the photo shop and get my picture taken so I can get a new green card to replace the one I lost in Kyongju. They really make a production of it. There's a mirror there, with all sorts of hairsprays and mousse and all, so I can make myself beautiful. Then the guy sat me down and adjusted the lights (about 5 times), and posed me with my head just so, and facing just so and smiling just so, and took a picture. Then he did it all over again, started to take the picture, then came over and adjusted my collar and straightened up my shoulders and arranged my necklace, and then took the picture.
And after all that, I know they're going to trash it at the immigration office by the time it gets onto my card. It's a real contrast to the US, where you just sit, it's snapped, and as long as your eyes are open, it's OK. Either way it'll look the same on the final card. Even with all the time and care they take with the picture here, I think it's cheaper than home. Didn't I pay $13 for my last passport photo? At Kinko's yet. And here at a professional photo shop, it's 8000 won (about US$7).
I went to a Confucian festival at Ojuk-on today. Confucians must all get up early -- I got there at 11:30 and as far as I could tell, the whole thing had just ended. There were large groups of high school students just leaving, and they were packing up the chairs.
According to the guide books, the festival is called Yulguk-je, and it commemorates the Confucian statesman of the Choson Dynasty, Yi Yul-Guk, who was born and raised at Ojuk-on. I don't know whether Yulguk-je commemorates his birthday, or his deathday, or just his life in general.
The books say there's a writing and a speech contest, but I didn't see any sign of those. What I did see was what looked like every student in Kangnung on the grounds, drawing and painting Ojuk-on. I was pretty amused by several who were drawing from a photograph rather than what they saw in person. Most of them drew what they were looking at, and some pictures were qiite lively, with lots of children in them. One girl was painting the cold-drink machine.
They had flowers in front of most of the buildings, with lots of flowers in front of the one that has Yi Yul-guk's portrait in it. That one also had food offerings inside in front of the portrait: apples, pears, chestnuts, what looked like pine nuts, oranges, a pig's head, and some green onions.
In one of the buildings, there were two rooms actually in use. One had women in blue hanbok, eating; and the next room had old men eating. I think the women were serving the men, and just got to eat as a fringe benefit.
Because it was a special occasion, Ojuk-on didn't charge admission today. It's nice that they do that, but they probably would have taken in more today than in the whole rest of the year combined.
I went to the Kyongju World Expo last weekend. Took the bus down to Kyongju, which was not nearly as comfortable as taking the train. It's pretty much south of here, so instead of crossing the mountains and then having fairly smooth sailing, it was mountains the whole way. Not good for my stomach, although I do a lot better now than I used to.
I took a taxi from the bus station to the Expo site. It was much farther from town than I expected. When we got near the site, I asked the driver if there were any yogwon near there, so he drove me to one, made sure they had a room for me, and waited around while I dumped my bag so he could drive me back to the Expo. I was pretty surprised, especially when he didn't charge me more than it cost to just get to the Expo in the first place.
There was a fair bit going on even outside the expo grounds, and as it was fairly late already, I thought maybe I'd just look around outside for a while first. Admission to the Expo was 12,000 won (over US$10), and I wasn't sure I wanted to pay that twice, especially if they were going to be closing soon. But the taxi driver was obviously keeping an eye out for me, and thought I was just confused. He got out of his cab and came across the street to help me, took me to the ticket office, helped me buy my ticket, and took me to the entrance gates. So my mind was kind of made up for me, and I went on in.
It's just as well that I did. On Saturdays they stay open until 9:00, so I got in about 3 hours of looking, and it's big enough that I wouldn't have seen it all in one day.
Actually, I didn't even see it all in 2 days. Saturday I saw the Flower Garden of Unification. It was very nice, with beds put together either by or about different cities and provinces of Korea. I also walked through the House of Friendship. This had exhibits of traditional Korean arts done by current master artists, along with other displays, and was very interesting.
By the time I got out of there, it was getting pretty late, and starting to get dark. I saw a lit-up building and wandered in, and it turned out to be the Expo Souvenir Shop, with things for sale from the different countries participating in the expo. On the way out I passed what they called the World Food Hall, which was a food court with foods from several different countries. They had sections for Italy, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Germany and the US. Unfortunately, none of the food really looked very good. I got some Chinese Dim sum, which they called Dim sum Man du, since it looked more edible than most of the things.
After that I caught a taxi back to the motel for the night. It was a pretty expensive one, 50,000 won, which is double what I usually pay. But apparently I was paying a premium for Saturday night, and I'm sure also for the fact that it was close to the expo. It was cleaner than most of the places I've stayed, so I took advantage of having a nice clean bathroom for a change to take a long hot soak in the tub. It's only the second time I've managed that since I got here, although if I would go to the public baths I could do it more often.
I got up bright and early (yes, really) on Sunday, and had breakfast in the motel restaurant before I checked out and headed back to the expo.
I'm very tired. Having Hallowe'en parties all day is much more tiring than teaching all day.
The kids had a good time, and really enjoyed the trick or treat. My costume wasn't very elaborate; I just dressed in black, put on a mask and wore my hair down and in my face. I think the hair scared them more than anything else. Gilbert pretended to be terrified of it.
The 7:00 class enjoyed their party. We had a ton of food, so no one got around to the chocolate mousse I'd made. I left it in the fridge at the hagwon, and we can eat it tomorrow. We'll appreciate it more without tons of other stuff around anyway.
We played bobbing for apples and pin the nose on the pumpkin, and sat around and talked. Never got around to playing Pictionary, even though I'd made up special Hallowe'en themed cards for it.
The 8:00 class didn't come. Well, Randy came early, and I waved for him to come in, but he didn't. And when I went out later to check with him, Mrs. Kim said he had left angry. I tried to call him when I got home, but he wasn't answering his cell phone. So I'm not sure what the scoop was. Or is.
Nabi is awfully happy to see me. I've been mostly out since 11:30 this morning, just popping in for 5 minutes here and there to pick something up. So he felt really abandoned.