Monday, September 20, 2010

Hiking Seunghaksan, Attempt One

Don't let the title fool you, we did make it up the mountain... just not the exact mountain we intended.
We rode the one line subway almost until the edge of town, and when we got off, we quickly realized our need for a compass. Put it on the list. Eventually, taking an educated guess, we landed at the campus of Dong-A University, the city's largest private college. The campus is wedged between two peaks, the buildings snuggly nestled into the side of Seunghak-san (in Korean, the suffix san means mountain). We found a trail up and started on our way. It was steep. Very steep. Kicked my butt steep, but it felt great. Most of the
hike, we didn't have much of a view, being surrounded with pines, but here and there we got an awesome view. To our right, the campus, to our left, the Nakdong river estuary, both a port and bird sanctuary. As we neared the peak, the trees became slanted, as if we had walked into the set of a

haunting movie. When we reached the peak, where we had an even worse view than a hundred years earlier, some Korean women urged us toward another trail, andwe realized we would have much better views at the actual peak of Seunghak-san, just across the way from where we were. Supposedly, the top is covered with meadows, yielding a spectacular view of the city.
Stay tuned for attempt two.

Visit to Chungnyeolsa Shrine

The proportions on the Busan tourist map makes Chungnyeolsa Shrine appear as if it's only six blocks away from our apartment instead of two miles (but much closer if we had taken a direct route instead of getting lost in side streets). Upon arrival, we were received by this monument, six bronze fighters standing firm for ancient Korea.
Chungnyeolsa Shrine was built 400 years ago in dedication to 92 patriots- surprised soldiers and civilians- who died defending Busan from Japanese invasion in 1592. The Japanese were looking to expand their territory, but the Koreans defended

Beside the serene atmosphere, I am most struck by how well this national shrine is cared for. The Moon Handbook tells me that in the early 1900's the shrine fell into disrepair while the Japanese occupied the country, but it was again restored in the 70's.
The ceiling's paint is vivid, not faded. A local refreshes the incense pots while Shane and I look on. Five hundred years later, Busanites still remember those who protected them from oppression. Each of their names is inscribed on a wooden tablet inside the main upper temple. Each May, a ceremony is held in memory of the 92. One building is dedicated entirely to the four women who gave their lives, fighting as they knew how by throwing roofing tiles at the invaders in the streets below.

From the top of the shrine-- taller than one would expect-- high rise apartments and million dollar office buildings interrupt mountain views. Below, near the koi pond, there's a cafeteria, and outside the cafeteria old men play baduk in the shade. This place is a calm escape from the six lanes of traffic that swirl by only feet beyond the main gate.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Beach Day at Haeundae

On the southeast corner of Busan extends Haeundae Beach, most famously known for holding the Guiness World Record for the most sun parasols on a beach at once. Haeundae (pronounced Hi-oon-day) is one of the locales in Busan that draws tens of thousands of sun seeking tourists and honeymooners from around Asia each year. Lucky for us, by the time Shane and I went with some friends in early September, beach season was more or less over-- more room for us to stretch in the sand.

The locals who were there huddled under rows of large umbrellas rented for the afternoon. Herein lies a stark cultural difference between the foreigners and the Koreans: foreigners want sun on their skin, Koreans tend to prize lighter skin shades. Not only that, the umbrellas aren't just stuck in the ground helter skelter, but instead are arranged in a fixed grid pattern, each umbrella's edge bumping the next. The result is that each group is surrounded on each side by another no more than four feet away. If the umbrella group in front of you also rents beach chairs with their umbrella, you can say goodbye to your view of the sea altogether. These beach bums didn't seem to mind.
The Sea of Japan borders Busan, though Koreans tend to call it the South Sea because of the historical friction between the two countries.
We six, in celebration of Courtney's and Leah's birthdays, took turns crossing the street for cold beers from a convenience store. Unlike the group of US soldiers next to us toting a cooler of Bud, we opted for Korean beers-- mainly Cass and Hite. My happy discovery of the day was Cass Lemon, a shandy-esque light beer, perfectly refreshing on a humid day.
Shane and I switched between dips in the water and cans of beer, until our pale Wisconsin skin could handle no more. Shane's skin was burnt for a week.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Country Roads Took Us Further from Home

After dinner at the raw fish house with the rest of the staff from SLP Language Institute, our group rambled over to a nori bang (pronounced nor-ee-bong), for some good old fashioned Korean fun, karaoke. More specifically, karaoke in a small room that holds only your friends, with plenty of beer, snacks, and off-key voices to go around. The nori bang's catalog listed both English and Korean songs. Mr. Won and Bryan (a fellow English teacher) kicked things off with a rousing rendition of John Denver's Country Roads. Eventually, most everyone got up and sang a tune or two, Shane picking Rock You Like a Hurricane(video below),and myself Tubthumpin' it up. If you can make it pastShane's sort of drunk singing in the video, you'll have a good view of what the nori bang room looks like.

That night was probably also the first time I have been
exposed to what is one of the best things about Korea so far--- K-Pop. Some of my favorite songs from the night were "Bo Peep", "Bad Girl, Good Girl", and "Nobody But You". Very catchy songs, terrible to get stuck in your head.

Soju Bombs, Not Just for Hipsters

After our second day of training we were whisked down the street from our school and led to a small (by American standards) restaurant, a raw fish house. Our shoes came off at the front door and we were led through the small dining room to a private area behind thin walls. There we sat at a table with the other teachers; Korean, Canadian, and American. I am not one to complain, and I won't now, just know that traditional Korean tables (the ones just a foot or two off of the ground) are not Shane friendly.

The low table, surrounded by yellow/gold pillows sat on by teachers, was already dressed with so many dishes
that I thought dinner was served. There were several bottles of Hite Beer, Coca Cola, Cider (7Up), and several bottles of Soju. The bottles were surrounded by a collection of small glasses for sharing the beer and shot glasses for the Soju. Several small plates of food were around the table that had several important pieces of the meal to come. Garlic, hot peppers, and water chestnut shared one plate while lettuce and sesame leaves shared another. There were plates of octopus around and small dishes of what seems to be the most important ingredient in Korean cooking, red pepper paste. Each place setting had a warm/wet towel, a small plate, a large soup spoon, and two metal chopsticks.
A custardy soup made with water chestnut and (possibly) oysters was the first dish brought out to us. It was devine in texture and taste. Next, three different large plates of raw fish were brought out to us. This is not sushi, not anything like it. Slices of several types of white fleshed fish came out on th
e plate each slice about one inch by two inches or near to it. It was not really my thing. It was so tough and chewy and didn't have a ton of flavor. But there was soy sauce and red pepper paste to help make up for the lack of flavor in the fish.
I found much enjoyment in wrapping the octopus inside the lettuce leaves with a chunk of garlic and a smack of red pepper. That was very good. Next to come out was kimchi. It is like a spicy-fermented type of Saurkraut. Rose likes it more than I do, but i'm learning. After the kimchi was kimbap. It was like a sushi roll with crab and kimchi inside of it. After that was a delicious salad made with pear and cucumber. After that, was the drinking.
Mr. Won is the big boss at our school. He had me come sit with him at the end of the table and we drank Soju and beer together in what he called So-Mec and he asked me about many things. Eventually I got drunk enough that I sang an Ein Prosit, which was a little out of place in South Korea, but it still felt right to me.
After that, we left, and that led to an even bigger adventure, one which Rose will tell you about, Nori Bang.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

More from our first week

On our second night in Korea, both Shane and myself had a "whoa, we live here" moment. Our co-workers and friends, Bryan, Dianna, Courtney, and Leah took us out to our first out to dinner meal in Korea-- to a place called Family Taco! The burritos were delicious though decidedly not Korean. As we walk through the streets of Busan, we are bombarded with flashing neon lights, smells of many cuisines, and poor translations. Shane enjoyed the Kenny Rogers music house we passed on the way to Family Taco. One of the other great joys of Korea so far has been browsing the thousands of products lining the grocery store walls. On our five minute walk to work, we pass each day about four different grocery stores. While browsing for dinner one evening, we found "Thousand Ireland Dressing," which we passed over. Shane has already begun to experiment with cooking Korean dishes like duk-bok-ee, a thick glutenous rice noodle, covered in red chili paste sauce. I look forward to many more of his kitchen experiments.

A Week In, A World Away, The Great Adventure Begins...

From the beginning of our relationship, Shane and I have dreamed of moving away, of seeing the world. September 2010 sees our goal realized, as the dust from our immigration to South Korea settles. Our first week has been exciting, as we experience the world from a fresh point of view. As we walk through the bustling concrete streets, we have been reminded again and again to not ask why, but why not. Our flight, on Asiana Airlines, was spacious and spectacularly uneventful. I wish I had snapped a picture of the flight attendants, as we were both struck with their beauty and immaculate uniforms. On the plane, we ate our first Korean meal, Bib-im-bop with kimchi, fruit, and red pepper paste. We arrived in Seoul at 5 am, while the expansive airport was nearly deserted. We grabbed a few quick snacks-- a Hite mini beer for Shane and drinkable apple yogurt for me, and waited for our short flight into Busan. A few hours later we arrived in the city we will call home for the next year. Immediately after being picked up at the airport by our boss Mr. Won, we were whisked to the SLP Language Institute where we will teach for the next year. The school is very nice, clean, and fairly well organized. More to come on school later. After brief intros and a tour, we were taken to a hospital to have a health check for immigration-- a physical which may have surpassed any physical I ever got in the U.S. We were seen immediately and underwent a hearing, eye, blood pressure, blood sample, urine sample, and chest xray. After we were deemed sufficiently healthy, we were finally brought to our apartment building and allowed to sleep.