Sunday, August 31, 2008

ULSAN ARRIVAL (part one)

I decided to Write this PART ONE because it needed to get out there. I've been busy lately, but you can see why from the following.

By all accounts, the city of Ulsan is an industrial city. If the view out my hotel window is any indication, this is very well possible. Outside my window, from sun up until Sunday, a crew of construction workers is building a futuristic-looking glass monolith to better the Ulsan City economics. This new building is supposed to house some new company that is supposed bring all kinds of revenue into the city. I think this is probably a good thing, since all the other building on the same road look old school and run-down. I mean, it seems like most of the city was built in the 50’s, and the structures have been standing since: narrow roads; brick everything; and a layer of grime that’s become part of the actual color of the building.

In Ulsan’s defense, I haven’t seen the entire city, just the parts around my hotel, which appears to have built in the 1950’s anyway, so it’s likely that I’m just in the old part of town. My sheets and curtains look like they once hung in my great grandparents house, and the whole structure of the building seems like it’s old and cracking. Jim used to make comments about shoddy construction, and I’m not sure if that’s the problem rather than everything is just older than snot. That’s what it seems like to me.

Well, anyway, we arrived in Ulsan on Friday after receiving our certificates that stated we’d finished our 3 week orientation program. That should have been a big moment for all of us, but we were too excited about leaving, and we were too sad about leaving to really even notice. We took some pictures of leaving the compound, and then we crammed ourselves into the bus overly full with bags and people. It seemed like we were only on the road for a few minutes before we arrived in Ulsan, which caught most of us off-guard. Turns out, it was only like 45 minutes from Gyeong-Ju to Ulsan.

Anyway, we had the rest of the day off to orient ourselves with the city, which meant that most people went out drinking. I climbed to the roof and took some pictures of the city above, but didn’t leave the hotel room, which I now realize was a mistake. There is utterly nothing to do inside the building except each and sit your room watching Korean MTV. So I ended up roaming the halls until I ran into some friends, who were drinking and watching UFC on one of the channels. Ultimate Fighting is popular enough here in Korea that a couple of channels show UFC fights later in the evening, which is interesting. There is also a channel called “Super Action” which usually plays Hollywood movies, but sometimes also TV Shows.

So, Sunday came and I didn’t know what to do, so Geoffrey and I decided to walk around Ulsan, specifically around our hotel and see what we could find. So we traveled up and down the streets, and once again, the combination of old and new here in Korea messes with me. We walked down a street with people sitting on the ground selling vegetables they very obviously grew and harvested themselves, while tapping away on their cellphones. Okay, not all the old ladies were tapping away on their cellphones, but some of them were. That’s the part that truly shows how Korea is different than Japan. Japan has street vendors, but most of them have Card readers and stuff, everything has become modernized and computer, but here in Korea, they try to hold to tradition by keeping things old school, all the while being one of the major seats of the engineering.

Anyway, so we checked out Ulsan and noticed that there are a lot of rather old buildings strewn about, places that would have been torn down years ago. We decided to stop in to a McDonalds and found that their menu consisted of Bulgogi burgers and Shrimp fillets. Fortunately, we did find Big Macs, but since there was going to be food at the hotel, we decided to have a sundae and head back. It tasted just like a sundae in the US. I guess you really can’t get ice cream wrong when it’s really just a vat of chemicals mixed to taste delicious.

Anyway, Monday came and we headed out to Anione High School to start our training with the Provincial Office of Education. However, Thomas, Marie, Rochelle and I ended up spending the entire morning trying to get out paperwork and pictures filled out for our Alien Registration cards. But, with all that we had to do, we didn’t get done before the immigrations office shut down for lunch, so we ended up heading back to the high school to have lunch and meet up with our Co-teachers and University Volunteer teachers.

Well, the group from Chokkwa Elementary school seems to be pretty good. Mrs. Kim was really nice and drove both Do-Ran (my partner) and I out to the school, talking with us the whole way. I wanted to make sure that I got everything in order, so I asked about the school, the area around the school and the students while we drove, but I also got to know Mrs. Kim and Doran pretty well. It turns out that we all have similar goals in terms of what we want to accomplish with the children. It’s always good when everyone is on the same page.

But eventually, we got out to the school, I met the principle and vice principle and started going over the curriculum and the schedule. The only thing the principle was able to say to me was, “How old are you?” which was kinda disheartening since he is the students’ headmastery guy, but what can you do really? I mean, he is old and he’s from a rural area, so it’s just that way with him. But when we actually cracked the books open, I got on top of things and started writing down everything I could about the students, the class sizes, the curriculum, the texts, everything. I wanted to make sure that we got as much done as possible. And when the smoke cleared, it looked like things were going to be fine and dandy for our students.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ending the Gyeong-ju Keiken (Experience)

Ah, Smallwood in the Gyeong-ju alleyway explains my feelings for the end of this training program. I hear tale that we're going to be going through another week of training with our Provincial Office of Education advisors, but like I told Daniel Geary, what the hell else could our POE talk about that hasn't already been talked about? I mean, aside from talking about our schools specifically, what else could they possibly go over in a week? And if they do have us planned to be with them for a week, what a friggin' money sink that idea is. It's almost so lame that it registers on my "WTF IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?" meter. That's just the way it is apparently.

Anyway, so the past few days have been interesting....actually I don't remember much, I've been so tired that I think I've slept through most of the activities we've done. Aside from going to the Noraebang, a TimTam Party, Adventure Korea, doing some Korean Folk Dancing, Papercrafts, a farewell dinner, and listening to a Welsh dude, there wasn't much more that I can think of....

Okay, not everything in this training program has been good, but there are some things worth noting:

1) Cool friends. That's right, I'll admit it, I have made some cool-ass friends (I put the hyphen in because some people are prone to reading cool ass-friends). I won't name them all (mostly because I don't want to leave someone out and get kicked in the nuts later), but there have been some awesome ones.

2) That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger. Lame I know, but true.

3) Relatively decent insight. Repetitiously, but there were some insights that I didn't already know, so that's ALWAYS a good thing.


4) Good food. That's right, I secret loved the food I complained about.

Actually, that last one is a lie, but I didn't want my list to be only three. Besides, now it ends with the Japanese symbolism of Death, which is always a great way to end the list about this training program, if that gives you any inclination into how I felt. I know, how emo of me.

So, basically, the last couple of days have been a blur. Tuesday, we started off with Min's friend and YSA Leader for South Korea, Angela Hur, talking to us about exploring Korea. She seemed like she was advertising for Adventure Korea, but truthfully, since I want to see as much of Korea as possible while I'm over here, it sounds like something good to look into. I trusted her experience in this one, if nothing more than she's a church official, and so it is that I will likely looking to Adventure Korea for my trips around the nation. When I have time that is.

Anyway, she was followed by a lady named Cynthia from Jeju, and that was fun too. She talked alot about tricking the kids into doing stuff without you asking them to, which was a great idea. I mean, it was much better than our lecture on Motivation, which was useful, but not nearly as useful as those previous two lectures.

Then things changed up. Our very own Jeremy Woods got called in to teach a lecture on useful websites for English Teachers in Korea. It made me laugh, and honestly, Jeremy didn't even know what he was doing there, so after a half an hour of talking, he just sent us all the slide show and let us add each other on facebook. I swear, I added more people to my facebook account on tuesday that I ever have before.

But just as I was going to go to Korean class, I got invited upstairs to a TimTam party. For those of you who don't know my love for Timtams and the Timtam Slam (or slurp or suck or whatever the hell else people call it), just know that the Japanese economy boomed when I found a store where they sell Timtams. And so it was that I went and joined our Australian friends (minus a few of course) and we shared a package of Timtams...which I know is not enough for my appetite, but they weren't mine and there were less-fortunates among us who had never had a Timtam before. :P

So then Wednesday hit us, and we started the day on a great note, with Chris Crowley, the Welsh Headmaster who seemed really uptight but had the best presentation I've seen yet. His whole point was to get the students thinking. Good plan. I mean, that was some awesome insight that I felt really stupid for not having thought of myself. Either way, he kicked the crap out of the second guy, who was apparently someone important, but his lecture on effective classroom management put me right to sleep. I seriously slept through the whole thing, and then at the end, he called me out on it. It was my fault, I gave a whoo! for Daegu just because I didn't want them to feel unimportant, but he noticed me and brought up the fact that I was sleeping.....

Anyway, afterwards, we made some Korean paper crafts and I totally rocked at cutting, but totally sucked at gluing, so Helena had to come and help so that it didn't look like a complete waste. Now one side is cool, so right on. We followed that up with sitting through a Korean Dance lesson. The guy spoke in dialectic Korean the whole time, so I didn't understand anything, and just followed the motions, but the instructor made it a lot of fun by mimicking people. It was as interesting as the taekwondo.

Then, as I was coming back from Dinner, I ran into Jeremy (the same one) who informed me that the Japanese girls from downstairs had asked if I was joining them for Karaoke that night. I didn't know they were going, but I jumped at the chance and basically spent the rest of the evening shaking my tailfeather and singing ridiculous songs that I only knew half the words to. We ended with Thriller, which had everyone in the room dancing, so SUCCESS!!! But we hung around after coming back to the dorms late (another Ding on my record) and basically stayed up until Yoko decided she needed sleep. Turns out the poor girl had a flight back to Hokkaido at 5am, so that's when we split up.

But that meant I was really tired this morning. We started the day with a group gathering and discussed as groups some themes for lessons and potential activities. It was fun and helpful, but I was so tired that after lunch I just fell asleep in my room and woke up a little before dinner time. Apparently the second seminar was ridiculous, so no one missed me, but the dinner was cool. It was all kinds of Korean foods, most of which I liked, some of which I didn't.

I don't really get why I loved Kimchi in Japan but I don't like it that much here. Could it have been one of those taste bud changes that happen every 7 years, or could it be that the flavors are just that different? Anyway, that's neither here nor there. All I know is that tomorrow we leave this forsaken place and make our way to our provinces, which means that things are going to start getting really interesting really fast.

Anyway, Happy Trails you wonderful people.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Gyeong-Ju experience

For the past few days, I have been living in the oldest place on the face of the planet, and somehow already have an -1 point infraction. The classes here have been been much more of the same thing, except for today, where we got to do Zen meditation and Taekwondo instead of the usual "How to teach an english class." Personally, I enjoyed the Zen Meditation lesson, as I find Taekwondo the weakest martial art ever. Sure it's got cool kicks and sure its all exercise and whatnot, but come on, is it really that practical in a streetfight? I'd like to see someone land a spinning back kick in a streetfight before they get rushed and curbed stomped...

Anyway, yeah. Let's start in chronological order, shall we?

First, we had classes, which turned out to be the exact same thing we learned before, only this time we had to listen to lectures in rooms with bars on the windows. Now I can understand bars on the outside of the windows, but these particular bars were on the inside, which only adds to my assessment of this place being a glorified prison. But then, the rain decided to help us out and created a small flood on the campus, which meant that all of our evening lectures were cancelled, as well as the Korean Classes, so all 200 of us where stuck sitting around the Family Mart in the basement killing time. That's when I met the Japanese girls living in the dorm building, and it's kinda refreshing to be able to talk to someone in a language that I understand.

Anyway, Nathan and I ordered some steamed chicken, which turned out to be disgusting, and definitely not worth the money we paid for it. I won't order that again, you can be certain. However, I spent the evening milling around because I was bored and there's nothing to do around here. NOTHING. And even less to do when it's raining.

So now we move on to Saturday. This was the day that we were supposed to go on a tour of the Bulgoksa Temple and the Soccram Grotto, which are like the top two sites of the Asian Buddhist world, but because it was raining, we had to move to plan B. Now, the Temple and the Grotto are both indoor-type activities, which I thought would be fine things to do on a rainy day, but apparently the Head Coordinator lady thought differently and Plan B consisted of going to Kampo Beach and the Anapji (which is a man made lake). I should have thought of that, 'cause there's nothing more I want to do on a rainy day than get soaking wet while looking at and contemplating water.

...Ninja Please...

What a completely dumb use of our time that was. Basically, we started out by going to the lamest museum on the planet (I only say that because it housed a bunch of Silla dynasty pictures, not actual stuff, and everyone in Korea was going there that day because of the rain) and then we drove 45 minutes to go to a beach that was closed due to the rainstorm. It wasn't bad, but the tide was huge and the drop-off was even bigger. The Coordinators were afraid the current would take us out to sea, and to be honest, I bet it would. So, we had lunch and drove all the way back to close to where we started to visit the man made lake. It took me a grand total of 30 minutes to visit all three pavilions, take pictures in each, take a picture of the island, walk around the lake, take a picture of the pavilions, and then come back to the front gate; it was that small. I would say it was more like a backyard pond than a lake. The reason it took me so long was because I was enjoying Victoria's company while I walked, and that was the only reason.

Needless to say, no one was upset when the Coordinators announced that if we all got on the bus early, we head back home an hour ahead of schedule. And we did, mostly I think because no one wanted to be on the tour anymore. We were tired, we were wet, we were hungry and thirsty, and basically bored to tears because, sorry to say, there wasn't much to offer in the way of excitement out here. The Blue House was definitely better, despite the raining, and that tour was cut way short....

So, we all came back to the campus and many people signed out and left, taking buses to Busan. I didn't want to spent the time, energy, or money to go, so I stayed in instead and we convinced the coordinators to let us watch Hancock on the Big TV in the convention hall. I like the movie, even though it was nothing like it could have been.

Anyway, the day ended on a rather boring note to follow all the other boring notes of the day, but that meant we had nothing to hold Sunday against. Smallwood and I left to go into town...we were going to go to a Church, but the closest one is in Daegu, and we didn't want to wake up at the crack of dawn to hop a bus to get the city to go into the subway to ride the train to the place that dumps us off only a couple of blocks from the church...well, I think you get the picture. So we decided to go into town and mill around, checking out the stuff in town and finding out what there was to do. We got bored pretty quick when we realized that we couldn't communicate with anyone very well, so all we could do was walk around and stare at stuff.

Eventually we ended up in the infamous Gyeong-ju burial mound park, and like idiots we climbed to the top. Two problems with that: 1) it's incredibly disrespectful to the person buried beneath (but in our defense, there was a footpath up where other people had already climbed it, and there were empty soju bottles, so there was a party up there recently) and 2) the thing is built straight up, so I had to Billy Goat my way down the side. I couldn't roll or anything, 'cause it was like a 5 story drop...ain't happenin' sorry.

Anyway, after a long time and about 15 people staring and taking pictures, I managed to get back down one foot in front of the other while holding onto the hill. Smallwood video taped it, and I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up on Youtube. The view was awesome though, and I got some great shots of of which is the picture on this entry.

Afterwards, we hit up a PC Bang, which is like an internet cafe except that everyone's playing games and not just checking emails or anything like that. I asserted my Korean skills while Smallwood played Starcraft and somehow won (we didn't understand half of what was going on because it in korean) when I walked up the lady at the counter and asked her how much it was for one hour. That's right, I talked to someone. WAHOOO!!! Party over here.

Well, we got bored and completely forgot about Gyeong-ju World, which is pretty much just an amusement park in the middle of town, so we ended up coming home early, which resulted in a long walk around the campus. BOOOORING.

Finally, today, we took a tour of Gyeongcheon Elementary school, which gave us time to see what schools are like in Korea. We were supposed to have lunch with the kids, but my table consisted of a bunch of Half-Koreans (and these are the same elitists that ruin every training experience here in the TaLK Program) who decided to speak to the kids in Korean continuously and then complain that we weren't doing anything. Glenn and I wanted to punch the guys and leave, but not only would that have messed up the kids experience, but it would have got us fired. Anyway, we spent a very awkward 45 minutes in the cafeteria before heading back to the bus. Glenn and I were the only ones who didn't make a friend on this trip because of the jerks at the table, but it was still an awesome experience anyway.

At least I know what it feels like to be elited against. I just really dislike John (who likes to say his name is Joon, but it's not, it's John) more than I did before, and I didn't think I could dislike him anymore. He made a claim that we should cater to the Koreans because it's in their blood to better at video games than White people. Whatever. I'm glad I won't be around him for more than a few days.

Anyway, as I said before, the day ended with Zen Meditation and Taekwondo. I got a good workout in before I got a great dinner of Tonkasu...which is Korean Tonkatsu, so that was friggin' amazing. I would say, aside from my awkward 45 minutes, it was a good day.

Happy Journey's people.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Road to Gyeong-Ju

This past few days have been interesting and boring at once. Monday was the same as every other day, except that I learned body parts in Korean class. I already learned them once from Sung-ae, but I forgot them, and I also learned directions while I was at it. I've begun to notice that I'm starting to understand to korean language, which is interesting because I've only been here for 2 weeks. I'm betting it's just a hold over from the abilities I gained on my mission. Either way, I'm starting to get the hang of listening already and I'm grateful to the Lord for that one.

Anyway, tuesday was the start of our new training schedule and the new stresses in our lives. We only had a few days left in the Seoul portion of our training, so they were trying to make sure that we had gained something while well as trying to fight back the tide of people wanting to escape being couped up in the small building...But they put us with a teacher for two days to go over lesson plans, or rather, the creation of lesson plans. Logistically, this meant that the 200 of us were split into 4 groups and sent out to be trained. I must have drawn the short straw because our teacher sucked. No offense to her or whoever chose her, but she was really bad at teaching.

First, she didn't tell us anything except to say that the answers to our questions were in the book we were given at registration. Someone must not have told her that's not a good way to inspire confidence in students. Secondly, she took waaay too long to make her point. She tried to illustrate that teaching a foreign language is hard, so she decided to teach us chinese by making us mimic her words and their coorellating motions. Then she made us do the actions while she said the words, and I think we all got her point in 10 minutes, but she kept teaching us and going through activities for an hour. A whole frickin' hour. Then she showed us a video of the ideal classroom, which was just her and her American teaching assistant, the $2000 a month glorified english tape recorder. It was 20 minutes of her explaining english to kids and then the native speaker acted it out. WTF?! She kept playing videos, and on the second day, we just ignored them because they were longer than necessary and didn't have that clear of a point (I think those two things were linked).

Thirdly, she stuck way too much to the rules, so instead being easy and separating us into groups of 4 for our group lesson presentations, she said over and over again that they said groups of 3, which turned out to be a logistical nightmare, but somehow we pulled it off. And finally, she kept changing the requirements and what she wanted us to do every hour and a half. It was freakin' impossible to get anything concrete in a timely manner.

But we finally made it through tuesday and wednesday, which was not an easy feat, but we did it. At the end of the day, the best from each class, performed in the front of all the TaLK scholars. It was tapped, so eventually, it'll be on the TaLK website. If you'll watch, you'll see me volunteer for jumping jacks.

We all went out on Monday because it was Valerie's Birthday. I hadn't met the girl before then, but any excuse to leave and eat real food is acceptable. So, I had Sangkyapsal (black pork - Korean bacon) and coke for dinner. It only cost 8,000 won. Things are just cheap in this country. Anyway, it was fun, all the way up until some of my closest friends here got drunk and I spent most of the evening following them around and making sure the drunker one didn't fall and hurt himself. At least I got to hand out with Michelle and Cholong, two of the girls who know me as Beom Joon.

Last night we had a formal dinner as our last in Seoul. It was alot of good Korean barbeque, but it was supported by karaoke. It would have been fine, but everyone wanted to sing in Korean, so 45 minutes after we started, the room was half-full. We ended with "I'm a Believer" and took our leave, but it just meant that Andrew and I stayed up late packing. We left for Gyeong-ju this morning.

Today was spent almost entirely on the road as we transferred from the Hyundai learning center in Seoul to Dongkuk University in Gyeong-ju. We stopped twice to stretch our legs, and one of those times was for lunch, but we left at 9:30am and arrived here in Gyeong-ju at 3:30pm. I think it was the traffic that slowed us up, because the country isn't that big.

But this place is a glorified prison. The place is pretty old and ghetto, and because it is a Buddhist university (apparently it's one of four like that in Korea) that means we have to follow a strict set of rules, like being in by 10pm (doors are locked at midnight, which means the smokers are SOL 'till morning). We also get tortured with the food here; we eat horrible food. The cafeteria has metal trays, and the workers put the food on a tray for you, so you just want in a line, and if you step out....well you don't wanna know what happens. They turn off the hallway AC after midnight (our rooms are equipt with old school rotating fans), we have to use stairs to get anywhere (even from the 10th floor), our shower is just a handle coming out of the sink in the bathroom, and we have to handwash our clothes and hang dry them. Oh, and we can't go into the city during the weekdays (not that we would, it's simply old crap all over the place). The campus has security gates that close at night, so if you leave, don't plan on coming back if you're gonna be late. But don't be late, 'cause they will dock you points, and anyone with a -5 gets expelled from the program. It's -1 for every infringment, so basically everyone is upset. Sigh.

Two upsides to this new training center (if you can call it new) is that 1) there is a crane hangout just on the other side of campus (on the buddhist temple grounds) which is way cool to just go over and chill. 2) During dinner, I kept making prison jokes like "Just don't drop the soap." People couldn't stop laughing, which made dinner more enjoyable. Anytime I can increase my popularity with the ladies is a good thing.

As far as the Cellphone thing went, KTF tried to pull a bait and switch, so I didn't go for it. There were like 50 of us who realized what the company was up to and told them to shove it, so I'm not gonna get one of those for a while. They told us that we were going to get a 12,000 won a month plan that was a pay as you go kind of thing, but then they came back and said "Oh, sorry, that plan is not available anymore, but you can buy this 30,000 won a month plan with a 50 dollar deposit instead that gives you 160 minutes plus 100 texts, but you cannot make or recieve international calls." Also, the cool phone they showed us was not the phone everyone ended up with, instead they got a slide phone that came out in 2000. I say it and went "That is an old phone." Nathan Yoon and his uncle already went in and talked to a guy about in Seoul last night, and the guy said that 160 minutes and 100-200 text messages and international calling was pretty basic and would only cost 30,000 won (30 bucks) a month, which is cool, since you only have to pay for outgoing here in Korea. As long as I can recieve international calls, then right on. Apparently, I can get a phone for free or I can pay a little down payment and get a Cool freakin' phone, with video chat capabilities and stuff. Since I don't have any money now, I'll probably just see what they have to offer and get the free phone for now.

Well, happy trails people, I will have to post more later.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Seoul Searching Experience

Thursday was kinda boring. We had 3 lectures on how to teach elementary school kids. One of the meetings was done by an American guy, so he was brutally honest about all things, and told us that we would be teaching the kids after school, which was a total relief because the other lecturers made it seems like we were going to have to teach the kids math, science and history as well as english. We felt the pains of being teachers until we heard that we are to be giving supplemental English lessons. That was really nice.

Thursday was also the day that we brought the bank to us and signed up for our accounts. It is direct deposit, but because the banking system is different, then I had to open an account for the money to come flowing into. I'm still not sure how I'm going to get any of that money home, but I will ask the moment I get a chance. None of the banking people spoke English and since there were like 100 people who needed to get the account at the same time, I just let it go.

It felt strange to have a paper that I didn’t understand at all as I stood there in front of the desk. I signed like 6 times and wrote my name like 20 times on a piece of paper that I couldn’t read. Since I had to fill out the paper work or else my money doesn’t get to me, I filled it out, but I was curious to know a little bit about what I was signing. But like I said before, no one spoke English.

In other news, I decided if our Korean Coordinators could just randomly select English names for themselves, then I could just randomly select a Korean name for myself, and after long deliberation and confirmation of its validity as a good name I took on the Korean name "Beom Joon" (pronounced BOM JUNE). My roommate, who is Korean, came up with it after long deliberation and going through 10 names that worked, I asked people what they thought of Beom Joon, Tae Joon, or Tae Jin, and without knowing that I was looking for a name, all 7 said I looked like a Beom Joon...if I was Korean that is. It’s funny because I don't know what a Beom Joon is supposed to look like.

Anyway, turns out that Beom Joon stands "Handsome Tiger". The coordinator, Angela, laughed when she heard the name and asked me if I knew what it meant. I thought maybe I got named "craphole" or something, but then my coordinator Danielle (whose real name is Jihe) told me what it meant.

Everyone is calling me Beom Joon here now.

Okay, maybe not everyone, but a large collection of people.

Anyway, Saturday was a full day in Seoul. We took a tour of the old and new parts of Seoul, first visiting the Changduk Palace (pictures on my Flickr account), where the Joseon Kings and Queens did they’re chillin’ and leadin’ Korean-style, then we went to Insadong, where we ate the best freakin’ Korean food I’ve ever had before, followed by a shopping trip in the same area, in which my roommate bought bootleg movies, 4 for 10 dollars. I could make a friggin’ fortune with the ones that I have here in this country. Thing is, none of mine have subtitles because they are for English speakers by English speakers. Anyway, we moved on to take a tour of the Blue House, which is the South Korean White House. The President apparently wanted to have coffee with us, but since the Beijing Olympics just started, he’s in China right now. I’m surprised about the close proximity to Kim Jong-il, but apparently their secret service isn’t worried.

Anyway, our Blue House tour was cut short because it just decided to go cloudy and rain on us, but that was okay. We got to stand under the cover of a really cool building that was apparently fairly old and had seen more dignitaries than you would imagine. But we got to stand around and take pictures with the security dude, in his white uniform and stuff. Fun.

After we finished the tour, we got to spend the evening however we wanted, so Simon, Andrew, Lee, Glenn, Amanda, Yano, Thomas Smallwood, Hana, Jackie, Gus and some others decided to go out clubbing/pubbing, but it turned out that everyone except Glenn, Amanda, Yano and I wanted to get their dance on, so the four of us left the group paying the 20 dollar cover charge and instead went to a bar for a while to sit and chat and have some drinks. I downed this drink called the Golden Medalist, which is a non-alcoholic cocktail of strawberries and bananas, and it was good. At around 1am, we began trying to find our way to the JinJilBang (a bathhouse, like a Japanese Onsen) where we were supposed to meet the rest of the group, but we utterly lost. After wandering for a while, we decided to ask some taxi drivers, but none of them knew where it was. That’s when we got saved by a Good Samaritan.

His name was Dong Cheol, and he was trying to find a place to stay for the night because he too was stranded away from home after the subways stopped running. He was standing there watching us talk to the Taxi drivers and kept looking at me, so I said, “What’s up?” He responded and we got to talking. When Amanda asked him if he knew of the place we were going, he said he did not, but called them to find out where they were. But he didn’t just find out, he walked us all the way there, and since he’d gone through all that work, we decided to pay the 10,000 won is cost for him. (that’s like 10 dollars) We stayed up really late talking to people there at the bathhouse, and I found a chair to sleep in, but every hour or so, I got moved to a different location, which meant that I didn’t sleep well.

But in the morning, Dong Cheol got us close enough to our home that we were able to get back fine. Nice guy. I spent all of today sleeping. Man was I tired. But the coordinators ordered pizza when I asked them to, so I got to have a good dinner later in the evening than normal. It was good stuff, but really expensive and small. Sigh, I’ll just have to get used to the Asian sizes again.

Happy Trails everyone, until we meet again.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Day 6 in Korea

Day 6 of the intrepid journey to the land of Goryeo has been an intrepid one, full of adventure, intrigue and strange customs. And then there's Korea to worry about. :) We've had some interesting events in the last couple of days that have been confusion, exciting and bizarre.

Yesterday was different, what with the icebreaker seminar and all. I did finally get to meet the kid named Thomas Smallwood who was emailing me before we left, and it turns out that he is a return missionary from the Quito Ecuador mission. There are now three of us LDS people here, and we've found each other, we're going to try to hit up a church on sunday. Luckily, Min, who served in this area, has a list of wards she wants to visit to say hi to her old members, so if she lets us, we will follow.

Following the ice breaker, we had a cultural difference seminary, and met probably the coolest dude in Korea; he’s a Korean guy whose family moved to LA when he was 8, so he had this full-on west coast, California personality, and told it to us straight. He went into all kinds of stuff, like how to greet your boss, hooking up, drugs, the whole deal. There was a lot of useful information, so if it had been like an hour shorter, it would have been the best seminary I’ve ever been to, but it was too long and eventually he started to repeat himself. Fortunately he realized that and cut himself off early.

Yesterday was medical check day, and the disorganization of the TaLK people once again led us to near failure. It was by the skin of my teeth that myself and Nate, another guy here, got on the bus, because they told us to wait in our rooms for an announcement, and then the admin guys removed our coordinators PA priviliedges, so I got up to get something and saw the last bus getting filled, so I ran to the ledge that looked down on the lobby and asked if they were ever going to make an announcement. The TaLK people freaked and moved us to the last bus, so we clogged up the works, but we got ourselves checked.

After our medical checks, we got moved to a different dorm building just 500 meters down the road. Jim decided he needed to leave to program because of personal reasons, so he's not longer my roommate. :) I was looking forward to seeing Jim on campus and stuff, since we were in the same classes at Ulsan, but apparently, he's coming back next year after he graduates. Turns out, he moved into our new training center, the Hyundai Training Center, and is living across the hall from me until his flight leaves on Saturday. It’s kinda nice to be able to see him a little bit more.

We've been organized into regional groups, so both of my roommates are going to Ulsan as well, and Smallwood is in the next room (also going to Ulsan and also an exchange student with the University of Ulsan). My new roommate is Simon's old roommate, so we all hang out alot. Andrew (that's the new guy's name) is actually Korean and moved to Canada to go to school. That means that he's actually the most beneficial roommate I could have gotten. We decided to talk in Korean as much as possible, but I still have to get up the nerve to initiate the conversation. I mean, he'd not going to talk to me in Korean if I don't start talking to him in it. I think after tonight it will be easier because I will be able to start using phrases and stuff that I'm going to learn.

Speaking of studying, I haven't really begun, but Smallwood and I made a plan to meet up with one of his roommates in the lounge at 6am every morning and study Korean together. I guess that's what we return missionaries who've gone through the MTC do. We really should invite Min to these things, since she's probably the best out of all of us. The intermediate Korean class was really hard, and I think it was because she assumed that she was teaching Korean Americans. Oh well, I guess I try harder and harder until I finally understand what’s going on in this country.

Happy trails people. More updates to come.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Korean Folk Village

So, Sunday, Donovan and I spent the early parts of the day downtown hunting for a power converter, but it was fun. At least we got to talk. Donovan is a smart guy, and think that I spoke more than he did, what a surprise.

Anyway, after lunch, 50 or so TaLK scholars went on a field trip to the Korean Folk Village, which is kinda like an outdoor museum meets an amusement park. It felt like a zoo with buildings instead of animals. Victoria, one of the girls I was with, said it was way better than Mt. Vernon..I guess she would know, she's from Virginia.

But yeah, Marie was my buddy and Simon was Victoria's, and since only Marie and I have cameras, things they stuck to us like glue so that they could get pictures of the place. We went the opposite direction than everyone else though, so we missed out on all the cool shows that went on 'cause we passed by while they were prepping. Oh well, teaches me for taking my own path.

But then it was home and more soup. Lame. But we start orientation tomorrow, so that'll be good.

Have fun peoples

We Arrive

So, we finally arrived in Korea via Korean Airlines from Seattle. The flight was ten hours long, and I had the massive inconvenience of being not only on a window seat, but being in the only seat on the plane with which the LCD screen didn’t work, which meant that my iPod’s battery nearly died and I was tempted to bring out my computer, but being a larger gentleman, I found that the people around me where already put off by my size. I’m going to have to fix that.

Anyway, half-way through the flight, the attendants decided that it would be a good idea to move me to an empty seat, which happened to between an American girl in the Air Force stationed in Korea and a guy who obviously wanted to be left alone. He was clearly annoyed that they had moved someone into the open seat next to him, and that made it very hard to do things like go to the restroom, but the flight finally ended, despite feeling like it never would. At least I have 2 meals, one of which was Bibimbap, and I sorta pocketed the left over sauce from the toothpaste-like tube they gave me. They were going to through it away anyway, but now I have my one so I can turn any bowl of rice into bibimbap. Lucky me.

After we arrived and went through customs, we met up with the TaLK guy at the gate who sent us to the TaLK booth. Nice people but also the bearers of bad news. We had to get on a bus and drive for 3 more hours just to get to the place where we start our training. Apparently, the location is hidden deep in the heart of the mountains. From what I’ve figured out looking at the map and stuff, I think that we are in the city of Yong-in, which is a suburb of Seoul. All I know is, I’m in the Hyundai-Hynix HRD Center waiting for Orientation to begin.

However, after we arrived, good things and bad things started happening. Good thing: They have free wifi and a computer lab, so internet use should be really easy. Bad thing: The converter I bought only works with 2 prong devices. That meant that I had to take a taxi into the town just next to us and search through all the electronic stores until I found a Universal Travel Adapter that worked with three pronged grounded plugs. Along with a friend I made named Donovan, I managed to find one at the Lotte Mart for ₩ 12,500.

I’m really excited to be in Korea actually, and I’m finding that I’m making lots of friends here in the building. I’ve grown close to Jim over the past few days and become friends with a guy named Daniel, who is a Korean-American from Seattle, Donovan, a boy genius from California Polytech, and Simon, the smooth and really interesting Brit from London. All-in-all there’s 400 people signed up for this program from all over the world, which is fun.

Turns out, this TaLK program was started by the new president of South Korea just after he took office less than a year ago. He wanted to create the same success for his country that Japan did for theirs, and he thought the best way to do that was to bring in English teachers as fast as possible, so they offered incentives for those joining on. There are only 25% of us who are exchange students as well as teachers, which is kinda strange since I thought that was the whole point of the program, but of my roommates, friends, and acquaintances, I only know of Jim, Marie and I who are also students. Maybe the coordinators math is off. But at least we all are getting in on the ground floor of something really freakin’ cool, which should be awesome, and I hear that there’s a chance we might get to meet the President, which would be amazing if you think about the kind of impact that sort of thing would have on my resume. Finding out what kinds of stuff they have in store for us, makes me more and more glad I signed up for this, ‘cause most of us who are actually focused on this opportunity, are likely to end up in high ranking international relations positions in the future; would be nice to have connections.

Well, like all programs, there are some good eggs and some bad eggs. There have been several people who came why unprepared and there are people who continue to go out drinking and clubbing, and generally creating a ruckus, which hasn’t come to bite any of us in the butt yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t come eventually. We didn’t have a curfew until tonight, which meant that something is starting to happen as far as the standards of behavior.

I will post about the Korean Folk Village tour we went on later. There is a big day tomorrow and I should get some rest. Happy Trails people.