Sunday, December 25, 2011

a Christmas Eve balloon launch...

So Christmas Eve I awoke  at 7am, and was up in Itaewon by 9am to board a bus head off to the DMZ, which is as close as civilians can go towards North Korea.  I went with some friends who told of this opportunity with North Korea Peace Organization, a non-political, non-religious organization that launches balloons with socks into N Korea every month.  While the organization is young, Mr. Lee, a North Korea defector, has been launching balloons into N Korea every month for the last 5 years, since was able to escape N Korea, at great risk to himself (he carried poison with him in case he was caught by N Korea or China).  Anyways, we went to launch socks into N Korea, as we could seen about 100 socks on each balloon, and N Koreans can use these socks on their black market to buy up to 1 months worth of food for a family.  Also, Mr. Lee told us about how many people are missing toes, feet, and legs due to frost bite from a lack of socks in the winter.  Even the well kept military has people missing socks.  Instead of messages of propaganda, the organization just had a simple message, that  said we the world community has not forgotten about North Koreans, and that the world loves them.  Live long until unification (with the South).  The wanted a simple message because the organization would like to one day be allowed to directly hand out food in North Korea, and sending over any kind of anti-N Korea leaflets would immediately make it impossible for them to ever reach this goal.

Although it was freezing, we were able to launch 4 balloons.  There was a lot of media there, and the organization was excited to be getting the message out.  AP, Reuters, and press from 6 other countries were there.  I was just really happy to be doing something very unique yet very helpful during Christmas time.  While it wasn't too dangerous, we did have to do it behind a hill from the DMZ line, as N Korea has publicly said they will fire artillery onto anyone they see launching balloons.. but anyways, here's a video!  Mind you, I'm freezing cold and tired, so keep in mind with my comments...

video


I'll add more photos later, but I have to get to work. Enjoy the video, and Merry Christmas to all!
Please check out the website www.northkoreapeace.org to donate and see pictures, also Like them on Facebook!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas in Korea

Merry Christmas...almost!  I cannot believe it's already Christmas time, but sure enough it is here.  The Christmas atmosphere is definitely felt here in Korea, though Christians are the minority for sure.  Nonetheless, the departments stores and all the coffee shops and everywhere else practically enjoys dressing up for the season, and there's a lot of Christmas music being played everywhere.  Koreans celebrate Christmas as almost a Valentines like day, I've heard everyone goes out on dates / wants to have a date for Christmas.  They exchange gifts, too, and there's even Santa's in the mall....but no beard and very skinny!  Anyways, I'm very excited to have a 5 day weekend, As this will be the first time off I've had since September!  I'm going to check out some temples here in Seoul and keep it low key, but I'm ready for the time to relax.

My apartment bldg's Christmas tree!


A couple of weeks ago I went to Saodaemun Prison Museum.  It was built by the Japanese when they first colonized Korea, and was used all the way until 1987. The prisoners were those who protested against Japan and after WWII, those who protested the military dictatorships.. It was really interesting, and had a good amount of information in English as well.  The Japanese killed and tortured many Koreans there, and you saw the building/ room where the hanged people...very creepy.  It reminded me a lot of going through the Holocaust Museum in DC...pretty depressing stuff.  By far the weirdest part of it was in the basement where prisoners were tortured.  Pretty graphic, they even had a display that took a 3-d picture of your head, and then placed it on the a body that was then shown on a large TV..first you were protesting, then arrested, then put into your jail cell, then it showed you getting tortured in various ways!  We were all a little taken aback, and agreed that something like that would never be put into a Museum back home!

A few weeks before that I checked out a random temple in the northern part of Seoul.  The name has escaped me since, but it was a newer temple up in the hills. and had some beautiful scenery for still being in the middle of the city.  Here's some pictures!



















A few weeks previously I had also gone out to Insadong, which is a big shopping area and kind of a touristy area for the tourists looking for souvenirs.  I liked the area because finally, there was some decent architecture!  This is something that is definitely lacking in Korea, but there are more and more buildings going up with a modern look to them.. here's some pictures of Insadong...









Here's my street when the leaves were nice colors a couple months back....



I thought this was pretty funny of myself....the girl copied a friends summary (or the friend copied hers), either way, I crossed out my Great comment and I wrote Do Not Copy, which you can see she then scribbled off and I Don't not copy.  I'm guessing she didn't quite understand or appreciate the humor in my response to her comment...


 So based off of the Thai food alone that I've been having at this restaurant in Itaewon, I can seriously see myself teaching in Thailand sometime after I'm done here in Korea...the food is just that damn good. Here's a pic of one of my recent dishes....



And finally here are some pictures of my new kids in my M21 class.  I had them in teams coming up with questions to ask the other team about the book we were reading in class.  All you have to say is boys vs girls and everyone instantly does what you ask them to do.  Quite the competitors....


Chris is the boy in green, he honestly is an old man trapped in the body of a kid.  He's so funny.


I started teaching kindergarten classes (just a science class 3 days a week) this semester as well, so I'll have to get you some pictures of those kids, cuz they are cute and it is pretty fun to teach them.  They're at the age where they love there teachers, unlike the kids in my school, who would never say "teacher, I love you!" haha.  But anyways hope everyone at home has a wonderful Christmas time! I miss all of you!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Put your hands up!

Well it's official, I'm a terrible blogger.  Two months is no excuse since I have been up to some pretty fun things lately.  Can't say I'm getting any better at exploring Seoul, unless I accidentally run into something....such as this cool building and nearby temple like structure nearby that I bumped into earlier this Sunday afternoon.....




Anyways things have been going pretty well here.  I had a great birthday two weekends ago, and continue to enjoy my experiences here on the other side.  This weekend I went on a party cruise off the coast of Incheon with about 900 other foreigners all dressed up for Halloween, it was a lot of fun!  I enjoyed being a secret service agent and being able to act like I was an agent all day.....

Me with peeps Michelle, Becky, and Lisa
Party Boat!!
Halloween isn't really celebrated here, they do know of it though.  So everyone enjoyed laughing at all of us on the subway ride to the ferry.  It was especially fun when the giant mob of dressed up foreigners was waiting for one car ferry to unload so ours could pull up.  We treated every car going by like they were celebrities, it was funny!  But anywho, we do celebrate it at the the hogwons, so on Thursday and Friday I got a break from teaching and just played games with my classes and the school was a little dressed up for the day:




So in the past few months I've been doing some travelling, but since mid September it's died down.  In August I went to the city of Busan for a beach/party weekend.  Took the KTX, Korea's high speed train to make it to Busan in only 2 hours.  Small country, eh? (Canadian friend's are rubbing off on me...)  Anyways I think of it kind of as Korea's Miami, lots of beautiful beaches.  I went with a big group of people, and we spent the time on the beaches and the nearby bars.  Sunday night of this 3 day weekend was on the beach the ENTIRE night, which was a great idea at the time, but by 6pm on Monday I could barely keep my eyes open and was really regretting getting a late train back to Seoul. That day I did make it to a temple right on the coast, which was very cool to see.  But here are some pictures form Busan!:

Statues on the walk up to the temple.. 

A neat looking dragon statue


The temple complex




Haeundae Beach! the famous beach of Busan
Gwangalli Beach...this is the beach with a bridge as the background, that is what I have at the very top of this blog..

Haeundae

more Haeundae

Gwangalli again...

A fun and exciting city, great night life, like all of Korea!

In September I spent my Chuseok holiday (comparable to America's Thanksgiving) with a couple of friends and many other tourist on a trip with Adventure Korea to Ulleung-do. It's a smaller volcanic island in the East Sea (NOT the Sea of Japan, Korean's don't take to that name very well...) It took about 3 hours by ferry to get to the island, and it was quite beautiful.  The weather unfortunately didn't cooperate, as it was mostly raining and overcast.  But I still got a chance to hike to the 1,000 meter high summit of the island's highest peak, and enjoyed the rock formations throughout the trip.  We were there for three days and two nights, stayed in a pension.  We accidentally turned the heat on in our room while turning on the air conditioning.  Heating Korea is done by pumping hot water through pipes located under the floor, and in pensions you sleep on mats on the floor (as most Koreans do at home).  IT IS AMAZING to lay down on a heated wood floor for a nap, and to have the aircon on cooling you down at the same time.  A great nap that day indeed.  We took a bus tour to all sides of the island, and had a fun tour guide. His English was rusty but he definitely gets an A+ for effort.  Ulleung-do is very close to Dokdo island, a pretty big territory dispute between Korea and Japan.  It's basically a large rock, and it's currently in Korea's possession.  I'm sure its argued for the fishing rights around it.  One Korean family does live on the island, tax free of course.  I didn't make it to Dokdo, and since the ferry ride to it made everyone throw up that went, I'm glad I did not.  Ulleung-do was beautiful enough.  Enough of my rambling, here the pictures!:


The harbor the ferry brings you to...

This trail is carved into the rock along the ocean, great views and cool rocks.  There's a bridge we jumped off and into the water, the water's temperature was perfect!! No pictures of me jumping though :(
 











A Korean home from the late 1800s

just a cool waterway along a sidewalk that ducks under a bridge here for a moment...

The beginning of our hike up Seonginbong Peak...down below is the main city Dodong, where the ferry port is and our pension...

Please do not be fooled by this photo, this makes the hike look easy.  Most of it was intense climbing, especially the beginning part that seriously must have risen up at a 45 degree angle...


decent view from a little gazebo

The top! Looking down into the crater left by the volcano...the ocean is in the background..


Looking the other way, you can see the other side of the island.





Dongdo by night, it took us awhile to get back down the mountain!


The port town of Dongdo on Ulleung-do

the island's well known for it fresh, dried squid...

and yes, it tastes delicious! like beef jerkey with a distinct fishy flavor to it...






























Teaching's becoming more and more of a drag, but that was kind of expected.  After November we start a  new semester again and hopefully fresh classes will rejuvinate me, and hopefully my kids won't be as problematic as most of them seem to be this currect semester.  The later half of this month I have open houses in 5 different classes, where I teach my lesson with the students AND there parents in the room, so they can observe.  Problem is, this is anything but a normal lesson, and I will spend the first half of this month stressed out and prepping my kids for this one lesson, in the hopes of making it "perfect" so the parents continue to send there kids to the our hogwon. Hopefully the parents of the girl who has not talked to a teacher in her year and a half at the school upstairs will realize how pointless her being there is and save some of their money!

So Korea continues on.  I love hearing from everyone back home, so please feel free to email me, I miss you all!  I cannot believe its been 5 months now that I've been here, the time flies by so quickly.  I'm hoping winter time doesn't get too cold for me, so far the fall has been mostly beautiful and the weather is staying in the upper 40s/50s even through the night, so not too cold here yet.  I'm hoping to do a temple stay sometime in the next few months, but I'm also hoping to update this blog more frequently. Hope everyone has a Happy Halloween!   and enjoy this 8 year old girl's take on the movie Shrek....: