Saturday, January 29, 2011

Seoul: Pictures of Palaces

As part of our four day winter vacation to the tropical wonderland of Seoul, Shane and I spent several hours wandering palace grounds. Seoul is home to five Joseon Dynasty palaces, one of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though the raw weather chilled us through, the palaces' vibrant colors reminded us of sunny days. 

or, the Palace of Shining Happiness
originally constructed 1394

or, the Palace of Prospering Virtue
originally constructed 1412

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jumping for Joy

For a Saturday night mini-date, Shane and I walked the fifteen minutes up the Oncheonjang trail to Dongnae-gu for a bite to eat. We stopped into The Frypan, a franchise restaurant serving up fried chicken tenders, homemade chips, and beer. 

The food was tasty, but even more satisfying was bumping into one of my kindergarten students, who herself was with her father, on their way for some dinner of their own. As soon as Sarah saw me, she began ceaselessly jumping up and down, her arms flailing at her sides, yelling "TEACHER! TEACHER! TEACHER! TEACHER!". When I finally got her to stop dancing, and asked her where she was going, she babbled in English, pointed up then down the street, made some strange squeaking noises, and then started jumping gleefully all over again yelling "TEACHER! TEACHER!". 

Earlier in the night, I had been stuck in my own head, overanalyzing everything like my usual self, and feeling rather overwhelmed. But this unplanned moment cut through all of it. She was so happy to see me, and simple as that, I remembered why I love my life so much. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Faster Than a Speeding...

 On a crisp December morning, two travelers set out from Busan Station in search of adventure in the north. We watched the giant neon ticker for our signal to board. Efficiency is everything at this train station, and punctuality is key. We  climb onto our train and find our seats.
This shiny high speed rail would take us from Busan to Seoul at the opposite end of the country in just two and a half hours. Before the KTX began crisscrossing Korea in 2004, the same trip between the two largest cities in Korea took more like five and a half hours. Though more expensive than slower trains to Seoul, the KTX was comfortable and quiet and fast. Though we spent a considerable amount of time under tunnels, the trip afforded us some great views. Here's our highlight reel:
Riding the KTX
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Live from Busan!

One of the most comforting discoveries of living in Busan has been the robust expatriate community here. Coming over, my misguided self thought I wouldn't often run into other English speakers-- how little I knew. The Busan city government estimates that about 1 in 100 residents in Busan is a foreigner, English speaking and otherwise, and this community has cultivated an active expat scene. 

A couple months ago, Shane became part of the community when he became a cast member Busan Night Live's second incarnation. Staged by a combination of Koreans and expats at a local nightclub, the sketch comedy show jabbed at life in Korea and life itself. 

For all you Shane fans, he played a few roles including a beer pong playing, cheap drink buying, dating game contestant; a frustrated waiter who finally lets it all go... in the salad; and a failed magician's on-stage sidekick. He tried his hand at voiceover in a prerecorded sketch called "Shit on a Bus". 

My favorite sketch was the "Ajumma Olympics"-- several guys running around town competing in ajumma's favorite activities. I think we all know how much Shane likes to put on a dress for a role, so of course, here's a sketch featuring cross dressing. I promise hilarity!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Christmas Season Wrap Up

This past year as November and then December rolled in, I approached the holiday season with trepidation.

After all, when you're a person so close-knit to your family, it's hard to know how you're supposed to act and react to the holidays when you're spending it in a land that is your residence, yet is not your home.

Enter Causes Greater Than Thyself.

First up, finding great gifts for family back home. We took a strategic approach and did half of our shopping online, and half from here. You may not know it, but Korea is a shopper's sanctuary, with everything from giant stationary shops to luxurious department stores to guys selling stuff off the back of a truck parked in front of your workplace. After some careful post office guesswork, mission accomplished.

Cause number two, kindergarten Christmas Concert. Christmas Concerts are serious business here, meant mostly to show off our academy's swagger. I remember kindergarten concerts as a "one song per class, some hand gestures" type of cute thing. This was not one of those concerts; it was full on, each class performing a fully choreographed dance routine and an eight minute play, including costume changes. Teachers began writing scripts in October and classes started rehearsing in November. In the end, the parents were very impressed, and the teachers relieved.

Shane's class waiting patiently for their turn.

One of UPenn classes most talented class clowns. Heart him.

Next, my role as Santa's helper at school, trying to convince the students that it really was Santa, not Shane Teacher, even though this Santa has earrings just like Shane. The kids are too smart for me, and I got tangled in my web of lies.

Our school was very kind to us, not only treating the teachers to a Korean BBQ dinner after the Christmas Concert, but also holding the first ever all-staff end of year party. Dinner included soju and makkeoli (rice wine). Boss man asked us to take a shot with him, and when I replied that I shouldn't drink too much because I had to work the next day, he told me that he doesn't want to think of me as an old lady, so drink up. I love Korean hospitality.

The finale to our Christmas was both the best and most difficult, and it left me marked with many mixed emotions, mostly the feeling that I needed to educate myself much more about social systems here. Shane and I were invited to join others in volunteer on Christmas day at local orphanages. 

We put on an abridged Grinch Who Stole Christmas. We had a minor role at the beginning and ending of the extravaganzas, and spent only a little time with the children themselves, as we had to travel across town in between performances to get to the second location. At the first orphanage, a young boy started crying the moment he saw Shane, a huge, strange blonde-headed man with green facepaint. Making orphans cry was NOT the gift we wanted to give these children. After a rough start, though, the rest of the performance went well, with Yuni narrating in Korean, and boys and girls laughing intermittently. 

I still cannot articulate well how this made me feel. I felt sad for the children, but felt patronizing for feeling that. The orphanages didn't feel like sad places: they were warm and bright and colorful and cozy, not a scene from a Charles Dickens novel. I wished I could do more than show up for 15 minutes one day a year and pretend it was some great act. Sure, it was nice, and the kids really did have lots of fun. But I can't even pretend to start to understand what their lives are like. I wanted to give them more affection, more love.... This brief experience has left me marked in ways I don't yet fully understand, yet, it was not about me or any of the other volunteers, it was about those children, who are each other's family.

As for our families in Wisconsin, we were able to arrange a late night Skype session to spend Christmas morning with them. It wasn't the same as being there, of course, but it was a little of home from far away. 

Christmas Lights Festival in Nampo-dong.
After all, nothing says Christmas like flags
and dolphins.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Convenience Store Raid Series: Soda

Back in December, I started the Soju Cocktail Convenience Store Raid Series by reviewing the oh-so-delectable Crunky Bar. Now, we’re back at it for installment two. Why care about what junk food lurks in Busan’s GS-25s, Family Marts, 7-11s, and Buy the Ways? 
Because it’s fun. And convenience stores are everywhere. There’s one directly below our apartment where all the employees recognize us from our every other day visits. I also think that the cheapie processed foods that our students always seem to be munching on can tell us a lot about Korea as a modern country.
Today, we're examining the drinkables, specifically soda. Neither Shane nor I really drink too much soda, but every once in awhile a can of fizzy just hits the spot. 
One of the best things about soda here is can size. The standard 12 ounce is usually too much for me, but the 8 oz. cans here are just enough without going overboard.

The fully loaded cooler downstairs.

We picked out some of our favorites to share with you. The Pocari Sweat is not actually a can of sweat, but instead like a sweeter, saltier white flavored gatorade. Milkis is our absolute favorite, and we have no idea why it's not sold in America. Straight up plain is the best, but you can get orange or banana as well. It's like drinking just the cream part from an orange cream soda. But not like your A&W cream soda. Milky, but in a good way. Fanta of course. Then DemiSoda, available in apple, grape, and orange, and if you're really lucky, you'll find the lemon flavor. More of a sparkling juice, and really tasty. We didn't buy any Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Coca Cola, Cherry Coke, or Coke Zero, but that's readily available here. Just some of the daily frivolities of life from the land of the morning calm.  

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Best Year Ever? Rose & Shane's 2010 Year in Pictures

Indulge me for a moment while I venture away from writing about life here in Korea and reflect upon the year now passed. 

For us, 2010 brought change and renewal, inspiration and gratitude.

Domestic travel opportunities brought us to Arizona, Colorado, and Chicago.
 All beautiful.
 Best part: spending time with Andrea, Mackenzie, and Miranda.

In one week, Shane got a tattoo, 

we signed our contracts for jobs in Korea,

and Shane proposed-- in true Wisconsin style-- in front of the Wisconsin capital building. We celebrated with hiking, wandering the farmer's market, watching the World Cup, fine dining, and soaking in sunset views. 

We both began to take better care of ourselves physically. This year, we've lost a combined 40 pounds. We also ran our first 5k. Well, Shane ran it, I "jog-walked" it. 

The 5k was a charity even for the Wisconsin Institute for Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia, Inc., my former workplace. It was a wonderful job that was hard to say goodbye to, especially when they threw me a surprise party.

Shane honed his hobby of home brewing and kept us in full stock of drinkables.

And got back on the stage, performing in Busan Night Live, a sketch comedy show.

He also got to sit courtside at a Milwaukee Bucks/Denver Nuggets Game. He high fived Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and Kurt Thomas. A very big deal for him. He also high fived Carlos Delfino, a very big deal to me.

The year was not without shenanigans....


Our families gave us a lot of reasons to celebrate: Sara & Nick's wedding (Shane's sister) and announcement of twins on the way, Shane's oldest brother getting engaged to Sophie, a new nephew, Baby Henry, and birthdays of nieces and nephews. We grew closer to our families and spent more time with them this summer than ever before.

Of course, the year was not without difficulty. We packed the collection of our lives tidily into boxes for storage, said temporary goodbyes to too many friends and family members before the move. Living miles and miles from home has at times left us tinged with heartsickness, and military tension on the peninsula made us question the leap of faith we had made when coming here. 

It has been the best year ever.

Leap and the net will appear. 
Be bold and might forces will come to your aid.

We hope 2011 will be your best year ever. Happy New Year!