Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Buan in Pictures

A few pictures from around our town.

Watermelon: $22.

Lettuce growing outside our apartment.

A local homeless man who has decided I'm his friend.

Rice fields.

The joys of a tiny Korean apartment.

Water Street - the "entertainment district".

Monday, June 27, 2011

What Is This?

I found these babies in Jeonju over the weekend, and all I can say is WHAT THE HELL.

I think my toes are meant to look like teeth, but as I have type 1 Syndactyly (aka webbed toes) the effect is... lost... somewhat. Off to buy a million pairs and send them home.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Pohang Marathon

Last weekend I ran my first marathon. It was only 5 kilometres long, but the name seems to be used for any running race in Korea. I've been doing the Couch to 5K running plan for a few months. It's supposed to take ten weeks but I was interrupted a few times by sickness and crippling laziness. The run was in Pohang, a city on Korea's east coast. It's famous, at least in Korea, for it's beaches and - according to a Korean friend of mine - for being a whaling town in the past. He also said that Pohang means "whale harbour", a claim that Google Translate disputes, preferring "hand pot", "anti paw", or "section four."

There were heaps of people doing the 5K, only about half of whom seemed to be there on purpose. At the start line I could see several people with backpacks, talking on cell phones, even one kid with a freaking Galaxy Tab. There were also fireworks at the start of each race, and a whole bunch of balloons were released.

Essential running equipment.
Don't forget your balloons.
When the race started I realised I'd been foolish not to push my way to the front. I spent a frustrating forty seconds trying to get past a huge crowd of people before I even got to the start line. Things got a bit better after 500 metres or so when the crowd thinned out, but there were still some stupid people; several times someone ran past me and immediately stopped and walked when they were one pace ahead. Thanks. 

It was sweltering hot for most of the race and I all but gave up my goal of finishing the race in under 30 minutes. This was made worse by seeing that there were several people in wheelchairs in front of me. Anna told me later that they started before everyone else, but it was pretty demoralising at the time. By the home stretch I was just wanting to make it without stopping to walk, or collapsing from the heat. But when I rounded the last corner I saw the timer said 24 minutes something. I wasn't sure that this was real, but Anna confirmed it. 24:43. More than five minutes quicker than I've ever run that distance. 

Before heading home we checked out Pohang's world famous (in Korea) Bukbu beach, and unexpectedly saw it's genuinely world famous landmark.

Book-boo bee-chee

Liberty Enlightening a Love Motel
Update: Last week I mentioned that when I was leaving one of my small rural schools a group of armed soldiers was guarding the gate. The same Korean friend with the questionable Pohang name theories told me that it was probably a training exercise. All South Korean men must serve two years in the military (in the North it's ten.) This is followed up by some kind of refresher training about five years after that, which is what he thought this would be. I did ask why they were using a school for this training, particularly one which is open, but I didn't get much of an answer, and he looked at me like I was very strange for asking such a question.

Hot as Bawls

It's summer in Korea. In New Zealand, summer means beaches and barbecues and delicious cider and Christmas and ohhhh man Korean summer sucks.

We had a couple of weeks of New Zealand-ish summer weather (and one lovely barbecue on our awesome roof) but now it's getting into Korean style real summer. Korean summer means heat, rain, humidity and sweaty, smelly children. I'm pretty sure that summer starts in June, right? I may be from the Southern Hemisphere but I still have an understanding about how seasons work, and although it is summer, damnit, apparently it is not summer enough and at my school we cannot use the air con until July. JULY. July is a mere 7 days away but this is what I look like all day:

Loyal readers may remember me making a similar face back in September. Some days when I get home I want to snuggle with our air con but I don't, only because Tom is already snuggling it.

And it's rainy season too, as of 2 days ago. My walk to school now features an obstacle course of sorts as I slalom between hordes of school children wielding multicoloured umbrellas. If they understood me I'd yell at them to walk in single file, but instead I fume as they chime 'HELLO' at me and dominate the whole pavement. 

Oh god, I almost forgot the other thing. The frogs.

There's a pond next to our apartment. A pond that serves no purpose aside from being filled with fricken frogs who ribbit so loudly you can hear them through our laundry and double doors. After a bout of rain they escape the confines of the rice paddies and useless pond, and hop around the pavement, scaring the crap out of a certain English teacher as she walks home late at night. Ughh, Summer.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Korean Things I Have Eaten

It's been 11 whole days since I blogged about Korean snacks! How are you coping? Pretty well I expect.

Today's featured Korean deliciousness is the milkshake in a tube.  Solleim (Excitement!) comes in Strawberry (pictured), Cookies and Cream (gross), Coffee (so-so) and Vanilla (the most awesomest!).

When you first grab these things they're usually rock solid and a bit useless, so you have to spend a couple of minutes with them resting on your windowsill or in your pocket, melting ever so slowly. After an appropriate amount of time has passed, you squish the bag until it feels like it's full of loosely packed sand (mmmm!), twist the top and squeeeeeze out some delicious goop. 

They're literally frozen thickshakes and they're pretty tasty. Vanilla's my favourite because it tastes like Milk Shake chewy candy from home. The upside of them being served in bag-form is you can roll up the tube like toothpaste to get out every last drop, the downside is the last drop will probably be your own saliva. GROSS (and thanks, Nicole, for that lasting imagery.)


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Most Embarrassing Incident Of My Life

As well as teaching classes and reading webcomics, my job occasionally involves some marking. This is usually pretty boring. An apparently endless stream of middle schoolers pours into the teachers room. I correct their written assignments and "explain" where they went wrong. This mainly focuses around me saying "Don't use google translate for your English homework" over and over. It's really obvious when they use it. For example, that last sentence "translated" from English to Korean and back to English is "I use it when they're obvious." 

Strangely enough, I do in fact use it when they're obvious. That is, I use Google Translate to tell them not to use Google Translate. Marking is tedious, tiresome, and pretty much useless. Occasionally though, I get a gem of a story. This is one of those.

In other news, the army came to my school today. As I was leaving one of my small country schools there were about eight armed soldiers at the gate with a couple of vehicles. I walked over towards one who looked like he was in charge, pointed towards the bus stop and tried to ask if it was okay for me to leave. He smiled at me like I was a crazy person for asking and motioned for me to go about my business.

I have no idea what it was about, my best guess is some sort of training exercise, but why they felt the need to do it outside a school during school hours is beyond me. I'll try to find out (or, failing that, make something up) when I go back to that school next week. Stay tuned.  

Friday, June 10, 2011


I've made friends with one of the admin staff at one of my small schools. He's a really nice guy and speaks better English than most of my co-teachers. Last week after school he took me hiking on 신시도 (Romanised Sinsido, but pronounced "shin-shee-doh"), which is an island off the coast of Buan. "Do" means island, so it's Sinsi-do or Sinsi Island, never "Sinsido Island".

Conveniently Sinsido is connected to the mainland by the massive Saemangeum seawall, the world's longest  at 33 Kilometres. It's Buan's biggest and longest tourist attraction (that's what she said). There's a road along the wall from Buan to Sinsido, and all the way to Gunsan, a medium sized city to the north.When the seawall is finished it will also include a bridge to Seonyudo, an island near Sinsi-do where we did an excellent bike tour in our first couple of months here.

I'm not sure how I feel about all this development - yes, the extra farming land will be very useful, but the huge hotels and resorts planned for both Sinsido and Seonyudo will ruin them. They are small quaint islands with very few people, roads too narrow for cars and picturesque little villages. Getting the ferry to Seonyudo is a pain but what good is having a road there if everything worth seeing is destroyed in the process?

Fortunately for me this is all in the future and Sinsido is currently free of ugly concrete resorts and rich in natural beauty and awesome views. The island is dominated by several tall mountains, with small patches of flat land in between occupied by rice fields, cows, and a small village, all bordered by narrow, rocky beaches. We climbed one very steep mountain for some stunning views from the seawall, across Sinsido and out to Seonyudo.

Then we walked across the main flat area and found the only cows I've seen in Korea that don't live in sheds. These ones were tied to posts and made circular patterns by eating only the parts of the field that their ropes would let them reach. There was even a young calf running around freely. We crossed this field to a small beach made of incredibly smooth stones. Next was another mountain, this one so steep we had to pull our selves up with ropes. From the top we got a great view over the village.

There was also this:

These flat rocks are often found in river beds, and building towers with them is supposed to bring good luck.

We headed down the other side and into the village, which was surprisingly big. There were several shops, a small harbour with a few fishing boats, and maybe fifty houses. On the other side of the village was a peculiarly Korean style of bridge, really more like a wall with a road on top of it. These are commonly used as routes across the rice fields, but this one led across the sea to a small island, and from there to an even smaller one. There was nothing on these islands so I don't really know why they needed road access, but we did get a good view out to Seonyudo, which can't have been more than a couple of hundred metres away. We could also see the huge new bridge taking shape, and on the way back we saw the pillars for the new road that will curl around Sinsido's rugged coastline.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Photo post!

Haeundae Beach awash with foreigners.
A patient taking a cigarette break in Haeundae. Patients in full medical kit
(sometimes with drips attached) are a common sight outside hospitals in Korea.
Two men enjoying a beer outside in Haeundae, Busan. It was 9am.
Red Velvet cupcake from Red Velvet in Busan.
To get to one yourself, you go down the alleyway in the picture below.
The Red Velvet cupcake shop in Nampo-dong, Busan.
We've visited twice and although the cupcakes are delicious, the opening hours are a pain in the ass.
It's open from 1pm - 9pm, but usually doesn't actually open til 1:30.
Just bear that in mind before you turn up there, hungover, impatient and craving cream cheese icing.  
Benefits of being ginger in Asia? Hairdressers everywhere!
I had 8 kids attached to my head at this point.
Sunset over the flooded rice paddies between Buan and Gimje.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

One of the Four Major Theme Parks in the World.

I asked Tom to name four major theme parks he said Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, Disney World and Euro Disney. Take a moment to think of your own list. I'll wait.


If you included Everland on that list, well done. That's certainly how they market themselves however I hadn't heard of the place before coming to Korea. My students are a little obsessed with it, and I've used it a few times in my lessons which resulted in a class full of hyped-up students chanting 'Ebah-landuh, Ebuhlanduh!' They get so excited it's almost as if I've given them a free trip there instead of showing an image on a PowerPoint slide.

I LOVE theme parks (probs because there's only one in New Zealand) (Splash Planet doesn't count, Tom) so I left Tom to climb a mountain and missioned out to Yongin with some of my friends. We caught a bus from Nambu Bus Terminal, if you're travelling from there take exit 4, walk straight ahead to the t-junction and cross the road. There's a bus stop to the right. It's supposed to take 50 minutes, but our trip took an hour and a half. Grr.

When you get to the outskirts of the park, there's a huge parking area where you must catch a (free) shuttle to the park itself. We'd been strategic with our Everland visit timing and hoped that by going on a Friday we'd miss all the weekend lines. WRONG. Visiting a theme park is a popular day trip for Korean students, so as we watched shuttle after shuttle get packed with busloads of teenagers our hopes of short wait times were dashed.

We got to the park about 5 minutes later and went in. It's the priciest theme park I've been to in Korea, at 38,000 won per ticket ($44), although you can get a 'foreigner discount' (of about 3k) on the Everland website. Like most of the theme parks in Korea, tickets are also cheaper after 4pm.

And here's where my useful commentary ends. Rather than give you a breakdown of the rides available blah blah blah, I just want to say that I personally think Everland sucks. There are some good things about it (matching couples, the Safari, the cover ups on the water rides, the garden area) but the lines are far to long, the price is too high, it's way too far away from anything and most importantly - the rides aren't very scary. I guess Everland's more of a family park, but so is Lotte World and some of the rides there had me crapping myself.

I understand that if you're in Korea you'll probably want to visit, but my advice would be - go to Lotte World instead. The rides are three times as good and it's half the price, as well as being near the middle of Seoul.

Below are some pics and a few words about the good stuff.

The water rides were kitted out for those who don't actually like getting wet! We got this big cover thing....
And dryers/fans for when you're finished.
Pro tip: bring a pen and some post-its. With wait times of over an hour,
playing 20 questions kept us sane (while the Koreans in line stared and giggled)
I really enjoyed the 'Safari' which had a Jurassic Park-esque antechamber to separate each enclosure.
The bus (which is pimped out to look like a tiger) drives through a number of enclosures housing lions...
White tigers, giraffes, elephants, zebras and....
one liger! That's a lion/tiger mix of awesome.
Just one of the many troupes of school kids in the park. These were cuter than most.
Lauren is modelling my current favourite Korean t-shirt.
Mine says 'Ho Phuture' and has a combi van on the front. Of course.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Korean Things I Have Eaten - Busan/Best Snack Ever Edition

June 6th is Memorial Day here in South Korea, so we got Monday off and decided to go to Busan for the long weekend. As Busan is on the other side of the country (and down a bit) from Buan it's a lifetime on public transport to get there, and the return trip eats up a good part of the weekend. 

We gathered a group together and hopped on an Express Bus on Friday night ready to visit the Haeundae Sand Festival and Yongkungsa and of course, eat some stuff! Tom or I will blog about the touristy stuff in a bit, but now it's snacks only, people. 

This is possibly the best snack ever. I could be a little off-kilter on my judgement as finding, purchasing and chowing down on this thing happened with an epic hangover but I got at least one other person to agree with me and we were both very upset that we may not be able to find this snack in our part of the country. When we finished eating it, we immediately went to buy another one but could not find it anywhere. People of Korea - eat this thing, please. It's amazing and apparently rare.

Kiwi Ah-chak (Kiwi Chomp!)

It looks like a nondescript fruity Korean Popsicle (there are loads of different flavours to choose from here) but it's so much more. The outside is a soft kiwifruit sorbet which is delicious and sweet and tart. When I ate it, I had a huge rush of homesickness as it tastes just like a frozen kiwifruit. New Zealand kiwifruit is sold here in Korea, but is too expensive for me to buy - the cheapest I've seen was about $10 for 6 of them. 

I digress. Beneath the kiwifruit is a pineapple sorbet, but to get to the sorbet you have to chomp through a thin layer of crunchy ice. 

Tried to take a picture but it just looks like a booger.
I'm not sure what flavour the crunchy ice is, but it's got a texture like the shell of an M&M. It cracks under your teeth and then you get a burst of sweet pineapple. When hungover on a hot day in Busan, it tastes like heaven. Sweet, crunchy heaven.