Archive for December, 2009

2009 Comes to an End

2009 will always be my “Year in Korea.”  What a ride…

As much as I miss home, leaving will be difficult.  We have less than a month left in Korea. This year has flown by at race car speed,  the world just a blur of light whizzing around me.  So many amazing memories, so many amazing sights, so many amazing people.  I am truly blessed.

This New Year, we’ll miss the the iconic Times Square ball of light and various over-the-top musical performances.

Instead, we’ll ring in the New Year Korean-style and watch (on television) the striking of the Boshingak Bell.  This massive bell is struck 33 times by 16 different people (the # of people changes from year to year).  The bell ringers are members of a diverse, ever-changing group comprised of celebrities, dignitaries and common citizens.  As in New York, the ceremony will include over-the-top performances by today’s “It” K-Pop bands.

The traditional ringing of the bell originated in the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). In the early Joseon period, bells at Seoul’s four main entrances and four small entrances were rung every morning and evening to notify the opening and closing of the gates. The bells sounded 33 times in the morning to start the day and 28 times in the evening to announce the curfew.

I put together a slide show of my favorite 2009 memories:

Finally, I’d like to share a few of my New Year’s resolutions with you. Sharing them makes it hard to break them.
  1. Write letters/ post cards more often
  2. Be more patient with myself
  3. Seek out more live music
  4. Teach my dad how to use a computer
  5. Continue painting
  6. ?????  taking suggestions…

I hope everyone has a wonderful new year! Goodbye ’00s, hello ’10s.

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Year of the Horse

The Horse


I love the Chinese Zodiac.

Mostly, for me, it’s just a fun thing to read.  However, it’s taken more seriously by the Chinese than regular Astrology is in the rest of the world.  According to Chinese Zodiac, I am a Horse.  In the most random places, I have found statues of the Chinese Zodiac animals.  These are only 3 examples I have seen:

<– in Taiwan

According to Chinese Zodiac:

Horses love to be surrounded by people, that is why they are drawn to events like concerts, theaters, meetings, sporting occasions, and of course, parties. (oh how I do love a good concert…)

Charming and cheerful, the Horse is an extremely likable character. (If nothing else, I am charming and cheerful) Hard working, self-possessed and sharp, the Horse skillfully acquires power, wealth and respect. However, the Horse’s sometime-appreciated frankness can be blunt and tactless. An impatient pursuit of success or self indulgence may become extremely selfish and predatory. Horses can be obstinate. In truth, they are more cunning than intelligent, and they know it. So, despite the facade of assurance, the Horse lacks confidence in him or herself. (shhhh, don’t tell anyone about this one)

Like their symbol, Horse-born people are high-spirited and lively. Their vivacity and enthusiasm make them someone you want to be your friend.  Silly in their humor, Horses are masters of repartee. They love to be center of attention and amuse audiences everywhere. On a negative side, many times rash and willful, they can be prone to sudden mood swings (um, I do tend to be moody at times) and, although seldom. really explosive bursts of temper can occur.  When they do see red, it is not a pretty sight. Those who have suffered a Horse’s rage will never feel quite the same about him or her again, for the fits of temper are a bit dramatic and childish. (yeah, when I get mad… watch out) If he or she wants to succeed, they have to master their emotions.

zodiac zodiac

One thing I want to point out is that if you are born at the beginning of the year, you’ll need to check the exact dates.  The Chinese Zodiac years are based on when the Chinese New Year begins, not January 1st as you might expect.  For example:  Seth was born in 1981, but because he has an early birthday he is actually a Monkey and not a Rooster.

Hee hee, Seth’s a monkey.  :mrgreen:

Rat 1924 1936 1948 1960 1972 1984 1996 2008
Ox 1925 1937 1949 1961 1973 1985 1997 2009
Tiger 1926 1938 1950 1962 1974 1986 1998 2010
Rabbit 1927 1939 1951 1963 1975 1987 1999 2011
Dragon 1928 1940 1952 1964 1976 1988 2000 2012
Snake 1929 1941 1953 1965 1977 1989 2001 2013
Horse 1930 1942 1954 1966 1978 1990 2002 2014
Sheep 1931 1943 1955 1967 1979 1991 2003 2015
Monkey 1932 1944 1956 1968 1980 1992 2004 2016
Rooster 1933 1945 1957 1969 1981 1993 2005 2017
Dog 1934 1946 1958 1970 1982 1994 2006 2018
Pig 1935 1947 1959 1971 1983 1995 2007 2019

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Christmas in Korea

Christmas in Korea is like any other day.

E-mart, along with every other store and shop in Sanbon, remained open.  Unsurprisingly, Koreans celebrate holidays quite differently than we do in the States.  There is a large Christian population (along with the Buddhists), but people don’t go wild with store closings or gift-buying. In America, Christmas is a huge commercial holiday with families spending hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on gifts.

When talking to my students, very few of them had Christmas trees. Even fewer said that they will get presents. Christmas is not a gift-giving holiday in Korea.

I also wasn’t bombarded with Christmas songs non-stop since the day after Halloween.  When I did hear the random Christmas song, I was surprisingly happy to hear it. Sometimes I sang along.   Back home, I get soo sick of Christmas music, hearing all the remakes of the same stupid songs, over and over again.

I did buy a tree.  Albeit a small tacky tree, but perfect in every way.  :razz:

Our director at work gave all the teachers cakes.  Seth got a bigger and different cake than the rest of the office.   His had a huge cookie on top. Mine was a cheesecake.  In the few days before Christmas, all the store windows were lined with red, green and blue boxes of cakes.  Everyone we passed on the street seemed to be carrying a cake too.  Instead of giving presents, I suppose giving cakes is an appropriate way to celebrate Christmas.

Christmas lights make me happy, but finding them in Seoul was a rarity.  When we did see twinkling lights, they were beautiful and reminded me of home.  Sanbon had no decorations of any kind.  These two pictures are from Itaewon and around City Hall.  Areas where foreigners frequent were the only areas decorated with Christmas cheer.

Hanging out with some friends of mine.  Just thought it was a cute pic.  It was a Christmas Eve Eve get-together.  :mrgreen:

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DMZ – Part 3 (last one)

On top of buildings, fences, and lining the river, I’ve never seen soo much barbed wire in my entire life.  Maybe even if I combined all the previous barbed wire I have ever seen, it might equal what I saw during the few hours in and around the DMZ.

This is obviously a fake fence and mannequin, but I couldn’t get close enough to get the real thing.  All along the Joint Security Area (JSA) were these fences with white rocks and red tags.  If someone tampers with the fence, the rocks fall out and one of the South Korean or U.S. soldiers will notice.  It’s the most simple design, but completely effective.

The JSA is closest to the DMZ border.  It’s better known as  Panmunjom, a village destroyed in the war.  Today you have to have a passport and an escort to even enter this area.

Surrounding the JSA are land mines left over from the 1950’s, but still very dangerous.

<– weapons from the war

One last thing that was interesting to see was the underground tunnel.  No photography was allowed.  North Korea has dug 4 tunnels and at least 6 more are suspected.  They all lead towards Seoul and were intended for surprise attack purposes.  It was said that 30,000 North Korean troops could have made it to Seoul in an hour.

We were permitted to go into Tunnel #3, discovered in 1978 and biggest in terms of height.  There was a 300m tunnel leading underground at a 13% incline.  At the bottom was a natural spring.   Helmets were provided in case we bumped our heads, which came in handy.  The actual tunnel is around a mile long but only 265m are open to the public.

When the tunnel was discovered, North Korea said it was being used to excavate coal.  The mountains of Korea do not contain coal, and so this was obviously a lie.  To carry on with their lie, North Korea had painted the tunnel black to make it look like coal.  I found this quite funny.  Those silly North Koreans.

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DMZ – Part 2

Even though the weather was -18C we enjoyed our tour to the DMZ with the USO.  Getting an up-close glimpse of the insanity and weirdness that goes on in North Korea made the cold tolerable.

To actually get to the border, like we did, you have to go with the USO.  None of the other tour groups are permitted this far into the DMZ.  They hold them most Saturdays and some Wednesdays. Tours need to be booked 3-4 weeks in advance.  We tried to come here many times, but they were always booked solid.  Glad it finally worked out.

Blue buildings are South Korean and the grey building is North Korean.  The actual border runs directly through these buildings.  They are used for conference talks between the two sides.  The big grey building in the back is the North Korean ‘Welcome Center’.  Ha, like they actually welcome people or anyone would want to be welcomed.

So this was the only North Korean we saw, he’s way up on the stairs in the back.  I can only imagine what he must think of us.   He kept watching the group through binoculars.  He stood alone and remained at the door to the Welcoming Center the entire time.

We were told that if we communicated with the North Koreans in any way that we would be escorted off premise immediately.   No waving, pointing, shouting or light shining of any kind was permitted.

We were escorted by a US soldier (funny guy) into one of the blue barracks.  The table is on top of the SK/NK border.  24 hours a day microphones record and there is a soldier that stands on the line.  As I took the pictures, I was standing on North Korean soil.  Weird.

The soldiers all wear Ray Bans and stand at Tae Kwon Do-Ready at all times.  This is to intimidate the North Korean soldiers.  Also, to be chosen as a soldier on the DMZ border you have to meet certain height requirements.

They call the South Korean soldiers ROKs (like rocks).

We had to remain behind a big yellow line to take pictures at the observatory.  It was 20+ feet behind the binocular stands.  This is about as good as we could get, especially with the fog.  That’s Propaganda City in the background.  We saw no movement at all.

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DMZ – Part 1

A country divided.

Republic of Korea – South

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – North

Going to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) was an amazing experience.  Making me feel lucky to have been born in the safe mountains of West Virginia and also showing me the insanity that can happen in your own backyard.

Starting our tour with the USO, we were told a story from our tour guide about her parents.  They had escaped North Korea as a young couple in their twenties.   It was winter and the Han river was slushie with ice.  Armed with only the clothes on their back and a make-shift boat that kept teetering back and forth, dunking one of them into the water up to their neck.  All while holding a baby high into the air.

I just about cried.

That’s the really sad part about this nasty battle between North and South.  Families were separated.  Still today people have family they aren’t allowed to see or even have any type of communication.  In the 1970’s there were talks of having family reunions in the DMZ.  But even as talks of peace were taking place above ground, the North was digging tunnels for attack purposes, underground.  The family reunions never took place.

What you see here is North Korea.  Propaganda City is the name because it’s only a show town, not where actual people live.  There used to be a very loud speaker that could be heard even where I stood, but today it is silent.  Quite creepy indeed.  Most of the houses and buildings are empty.  They are mere shells of buildings, with no windows or doors.

The North Korean flag stands a whopping 160 meters high.  When the South Korean flag went up to 100 meters, this is how the North responded.  On days of bad weather, it is lowered to around 120 meters.  The flag itself weighs 600 lbs when it’s dry!

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Kim chi

Korea is known for their spicy kimchi.  It is served with every meal, and if you ask any Korean they will tell you their grandmother makes the best kimchi.

To make kimchi you must have a kimchi pot.  This is a pic of old upside down kimchi pots of different shapes and sizes.  You get the point of what they look like.   That’s my little head in the middle…

The ingredients must soak first.  While walking in the night market of Dongdaemun we ran across this giant tub of cabbage being prepared for kimchi.   I thought it was hilarious they used a crate of soju bottles on top.   Onions will be chopped and added.  In the bowl to the right, you can’t see, there is a huge pile of red pepper powder, salt and some other ingredients I couldn’t recognize.

Once the cabbage is drained and spices are added, it will be placed in a kimchi pot and buried in the ground.

Kimchi can be eaten right after making, but is best when it ferments for at least 2 weeks.  I have heard that some kimchi is left as long as a few months.  Originally, kimchi was made to be consumed in the winter months when the crops weren’t in operation.

There are over 100 different kinds of kimchi.  The most common is made from cabbage.  Other varieties include radishes, cucumbers, bean sprouts or onions.   My favorite kind is cucumber.

That´s A Lotta Kim Chee! Kimchi at Kimbap Chunguk! So Many Kimchis

Kimchi is definitely not for everyone, but you can’t come to Korea without trying it a few times.  Every restaurant has their own special recipe and it tastes different every time I eat some, which is quite often.  A good way to eat kimchi is hot, cooked on a grill.  Soo good.


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Fun and Games

If you’re looking for good drinks, music upon request, darts, jenga and a fire show… I have the place for you.

R & C West

Tucked down a side street in Sanbon, on the second floor we find the most amazing bar.   It is not considered a Western Bar (meaning foreigners, not country western).  I enjoy hanging out in this place.

<– he’s really good

There is a fire show nightly.  This guy spits fire, twirls flaming bottles in the air and creates a cascade of fire on the bar.  Music blares and lights flash.

For bar patrons, there are also a bunch of silly little games.  My favorite is the Pirate in a barrel.  You punch in swords, one at a time, and eventually the pirate will jump out of the barrel.  Simple but soo fun.  Jenga, cards and some sort of dog biting game can also be found.  The dog game is similar to the pirate game in that you punch down teeth and eventually the dog bites you.

Cheap drinks are a bonus here.

It’s fun to let loose after a greuling week of teaching English.

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Chicken is Good

The bright orange sign calls my name on a nightly basis.

Chamnara Hof (hof = pub)

Just around the corner from our apartment, is a pub that serves the best rotisserie chicken.   I’d go as far as saying it’s the best chicken I have ever eaten.

<– close up view

First off, I’d like to say that I love eating with two forks.  Most places in Korea do not even have forks, but this place gives you two!  It’s the easiest way I have ever eaten chicken.  I love this idea and will probably use it in my own home at one point or another.

The entire rotisserie chicken is cooked to juicy, golden brown perfection.  Then it’s chopped up into random chicken bits and served on a wooden board.

Served on the side is honey mustard, salt and Yom Nyom.  The yom nyom sauce is as close to BBQ sauce you will find in Korea.  Sweet and spicy.  I love it, but Seth doesn’t… so it’s definitely a personal preference kind of thing.

The best part of Chamnara’s yummy chicken is that we can eat an entire chicken on our break.  We have 40 minutes for dinner, some nights, and this is a wonderful place to grab a quick bite to eat.

This place is super fast.   :razz:

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Commence Countdown

55 days left in Korea.  Oh how time flies when you live in a strange land.  :razz:

It took me at least six months to really settle into this Asian environment, and now time is running out.  With less than two months left, I am trying to make the most of my weekends and free-time.

Most days, however, are just normal days spent with Seth.

That’s me laying on the bed listening to Seth play guitar.  Stacey took this picture.  It defintiely captures what I love about living here.  It’s wonderful to be able to spend time together.

We have plans of going to Beijing for New Year!  I get to see the Great Wall of China… how cool is that?!

Other than that, we’re making plans to travel for a few weeks after our contract is complete.  :mrgreen:

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