Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Taking the Cable Car

Sometimes it's hard to work up enough zeal to spend a precious weekend afternoon physically working your body. From time to time, you just want to take the easy way out, lean back, and savor the view. Still, at other times, a good, long workout is in order.

On this particular Saturday Shane and I did both. Between walking to Geumgang Park and hiking even further up from the cable car's unloading dock located 1300 meters up Mount Geumjeong, we got in four hours of hiking. But we skipped the most grueling length of the mountain by riding the cable car.

After entering Geumgang, we paid our ₩ 6,000 each, waited in line with a lovely Korean family who informed us their toddler was terrified of Shane, and hopped in the car.

While my white knuckles strangled the car's handlebars, Shane snapped away with the camera. The view was phenomenal. 

We meandered around the top of the mountain for a few blissful hours before heading down the cable car at sunset.


Busan glowed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Soft Beach, Crunchy Beach: Dadaepo Beach

In a remote Busan neighborhood called Saha-gu sprawls a remote beach called Dadaepo. Dadaepo is notable because it's got what most places here lack: the elusive and sacred sense of space. Openness. Room to breathe deeply.

Blockish high-rises tower behind the beach, but ahead is only calmly lapping seawater. Well, that and a rusty crane bewilderingly sitting on a cement platform fifty yards off the coast.

Quiet waves arrange wettish sand into neat curving ridges. Old men cast lines while young men race remote controlled cars along the shore. The beach isn't popular in November and for a few moments, Shane and I forget we're in a city of 3.5 million.

We head toward the wooden walkway built into the side a hill. On the other side of the balcony the sand turns to crunchy seashell. We scuttle on the rocks for awhile and allow the wind to blow our hair. I'm instantly in love with the tiny red rowboat anchored close to shore. 

Don’t Miss: Picking through sea glass on the shell-covered southern end. Because sometimes it's just nice to gather sea glass.

Getting There: Take Bus Number 2, 11, 338, 96 or 98 to the Dadaepo stop and walk 5 minutes to the beach. Or, take the Busan subway line one all the way to the Sinpyeong stop and hop in a taxi for a short cruise.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fall Colors Reach Busan

Fall's changing leaves are in full throttle here in Busan. 
Crimson, gold, and rusty leaves litter the sidewalks 
and run up the mountainsides. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Teacher Showcase

Today our Hagwon (private English academy) held an open house for families of prospective students. The parents toured the facility, peeked into classes, and listened to presentations. 

The teachers' required participation was minimal. Nice, since we were all tied up with a little invention called "phone teaching" wherein each teacher calls students at home and attempts a conversation. For the open house, our one role was to line up at exactly 11:25, walk into the auditorium in said line, bow, smile, laugh politely, and walk back out, still in line. 

And that's how you have a teacher showcase. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pepero Day: Fake Holiday, Real Tasty

November 11th. Back in the U.S., citizens are thanking a Veteran. Thank you!

Here in Korea, we’re celebrating a holiday of a different sort: Pepero Day. 

Pepero are very thin, long cookies dipped in chocolate or another tasty candy coating. You might know them as the Japanese confection Pocky Sticks. I now know them as the calories overloading my desk drawer waiting for a stressful day at the office. 

Every year on November 11, couples and children exchange packages of Pepero, manufactured by the company Lotte. In Korea, Lotte is the company that owns, well, everything, from the Busan Lotte Giants baseball team to large apartment complexes, get-everything-you-could-possibly-need-in-one-place department stores, soda brands, amusement parks, and insurance companies. 

The mythical beginnings of Pepero day date back to the 1990’s, and it’s origins remain controversial today. Some say (Wikipedia says) it was none other than Busan middle school girls that exchanged Pepero first, as a well wish to others that they could become long and slender like the cookies. Others (my students) say that it is a marketing ploy by Lotte to sell more product. November 11, 11/11, looks like four Pepero sticks. Clever, isn’t it?

Contrived as it is, the small celebration today was a nice relief for the kids. And all the teachers, who thanks to the generosity of our students’ mothers, now each have a drawer full of chocolate.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hanguk Halloween: The Party Part

Fresh leaves cut from bushes. Check. Ray gun. Check. Two or three pre-party soju cocktails. Done.
Around 10:30 p.m. on October 30th, a beer fairy, Baccus, Leela, and a love triangle jumped in cabs and headed for Kyungsung University. We didn’t know how many people would be reveling, but this is Busan, and there’s a great expat presence here. 

And here's the rest of the story:
At Old '55, I hung with the fabulous Lady Gaga.              

While Shane chatted up Audrey Hepburn.

Back on street level, I ran into my animated friend Marge.

Kyungsung’s streets were packed.

So these guys made a ton of money peddlin’ drinks on the street.

We bought a few. Several times. 

Then Shane met this guy...from guess where...Watertown (next to Jefferson, Shane’s hometown). We made a bunch of new friends that night.

And these guys were there too.

... later, there may have been kebabs.

Hanguk Halloween: The School Part

Confession one: I’ve never really been all that great at Halloween. Pressure to think of a witty but warm costume always leaves me panicking. Confession two: This year I skipped the anxiety and stole a dear friend’s costume idea instead. After some creative use of construction paper, my Leela came together. Shane dressed as Andy Bogut for school.
Halloween is not a traditional Korean holiday. The only people who really celebrate it here are the foreigners and a few other select populations-- mainly college students and schoolchildren.
At our hagwon, we marked the occasion with an all day Halloween party. The kindergarten classes had a strong showing of angels, princesses, superheroes, and witches, with a few more creative getups thrown in here and there. After morning crafts, we herded the kids into school vans and unloaded in front of an unsuspecting grocery store where mommies waited, cameras in hand.
The kids sang a couple of songs before we relocated to an open area to take pictures.
The kids got to “trick or treat” from the parents, who came loaded. On the ride back, the bus nine kids heaped my hands full of candy: mango taffies, Snickers, and fruity hard candies. Nice. After lunch, the nine kindergarten classes gathered in the auditorium for a fashion show, where each and every child walked one by one across the red carpet and had their picture taken. Each and every child. Long, but they were adorable.

Later that afternoon, the elementary school students arrived, much less dressed up and much less enthused. We teachers were assigned to control one of four rooms (craft, picture, game, or facepainting). Though we had too much time and too little to do at each station, and too few pieces of candy left, the kids had fun and enjoyed having a night off from their studies. Though it was an exhausting day, the Halloween party was a nice slice of home.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Saturday Night Lights: The Fireworks Festival

When you're an expat, you deliberately surrender the traditions that make home, home. But if you're lucky, you'll have experiences that remind you that although you're a stranger in a strange land, things aren't so different after all.
In late October the Gwangalli beachfront hosted the 7th annual Busan International Fireworks Festival. Like the Fourth of July, but on steroids, and in October.
Thursday night’s warm-up act featured many-a-Korean-superstar musical acts like BoA, Super Junior, and SHINee. Friday showcased short fireworks shows representing China, Italy, and Portugal. Shane and I opted out, saving ourselves for the headliner Saturday night.
Weeks before, we were advised by those in the know to get to Gwangalli hours early to get a spot. Organizers expected 1.5 million spectators crammed on rooftops, in streets, and on the 1.4 kilometer-long stretch of sand-- standing room only if you got there anytime after 6:00.
Our cohort arrived around 3:30. Camping out with other expats, we drank pitchers, ate pizza and street food, and chatted with new friends, comparing notes on our Busan experiences. As the show approached, we found ourselves gridlocked on the beach, defending our blanket territory amidst a sea of Koreans. A simple trip to the bathroom, a mere 50 feet away, turned into a 45 minute debacle including stepping over bodies, finding an officer to stamp your hand as proof that you in fact had a prized spot on the sand, wrestling your way though the crowd, and waiting in line for 20 minutes. Then you had to make it back.

When the sky darkened enough, the Diamond Bridge lit up, outlined by colored lights and spotlights. We were entertained by enthusiastic dancers, giant beach balls, and Korean music blaring over the loudspeakers. As soon as the first of the 100,000 fireworks was shot off, the crowd cheered and then fell into a trance.
It was magnificent. The fireworks lasted an hour, and were timed perfectly to a multimedia presentation that took us around the world. Giant screens perched atop barges played videos of the chosen countries, while music representing those nations played on the loudspeakers. So what songs represented the U.S, you ask? “Under the Sea,” “New York, New York,” and the “Sex and the City” movie theme song. Of course.

After this show I'll probably be spoiled for life. No fireworks show will live up to the BIFF's variety, beauty, and brightness. Except maybe the next time I see Fourth of July fireworks back home.
If you watch the video, watch all the way through- the finale is the best.