Monday, January 29, 2007

Korea, one more time

Ok! We have reached the last of our Korea posts! I promise you - our new apartment pictures and video will be up SOON! In fact I may be brave enough to say you will see them in approximately ONE week (we are still waiting for our couch). Anyways, I assure you that you will find the wait well worth it.
We still have no Internet in our new house so I am making this post from good ol' Freebell. I start at my new job tomorrow and it is looking pretty good. I got to borrow the texts the other teacher uses and they seem pretty simple and filled with Disney (this weeks characters are Lilo and Stitch!) I am going to be spending the next 2 days watching the other teacher and then I take over officially on Thursday. I will definitely make some posts to let you know how my first few days go.
ALSO, we found hockey night in Japan! Monday nights a bar in Nagoya plays hockey. We may go check it out tonight. It will be the first real hockey game I have seen allll year! Wooo!

Ok, moving on to the rest of our Korean Adventure. During our last night there we just kind of wandered around and ended up in this strange little alcove that was having some sort of Andy Warhol tribute. The place was so cool and funky and so we wandered a bit and enjoyed the decorations. I did some shopping and then we stopped off for an awesome meal! I swear...Korean food is sooooooo cheap! Agh...I still can't get over it. I wish I had some Korean food like...right now. Anyways, here are some pictures from that crazy corner of Korea:

I particularly like this one:

Note the Neon green and pink horse in the background:

I loved these guys. I tried to get Ian to give them a hug but he wouldn't. He claimed there was a do not touch sign but I think he was just intimidated by their wily good looks.

These last few pictures are from the day we left. We had enough time to browse through the Korean History Museum and it was probably one of the most impressive museums I have ever seen. It is this massive structure that looks like a piece of art itself. I tried to get some good shots of it, but it was too big and nothing was doing it justice. Instead these will have to suffice. Ian's video may be better.

Ok! Good bye Korea Hello new home!!

Oh - one last thing. I think leaving Nova was the best thing in terms of making Japanese friends! Suddenly we have people taking us places, throwing us parties, inviting us to their houses...its craziness!! And I love it!
Anyways, good bye for now!

Lots of love

Saturday, January 20, 2007

War and Peace: A day at a temple and a day at the DMZ

During our last 2 days in Korea we decided to delve into a bit of the history. We immersed ourselves in a Buddhist temple to learn a bit about the spiritual history, and then headed to the border of North Korea to learn about some of Korea's political history.

The temple stay was amazing and totally unlike anything we expected. It was totally relaxed and in fact felt completely average, which I loved. Though we didn't witness hardcore monks and strict meditation regimes, we did get to witness everyday people practising the religion as they always do.
We didn't see the head monk much because he was on a self imposed sabbatical for one month inside the temple, but everyone else was so friendly. Everyone helps to cook and clean up, and in between meals and meditation you have time to walk or read or just talk to people. There was one other girl staying their besides us, as well as a guy from Australia who was the acting english coordinator (though he had only been in Korea for 2 weeks!)
Both of them were super nice, and it was really a great way to spend New Years Eve. It felt like we were among old friends.
Ian: It's unfortunate we didn't get to talk to the head monk, as he was supposed to speak quite good English, and would have been able to explain more about the religion to us. Also, he is currently working on his second doctoral degree... this one relating Buddhism to astro-physics. Occasionally we would see him wander out of his small shack at the back, and stroll around the grounds. But for the most part he remained in his quarters. Others at the temple would bring him a tray with food 3 times a day, and leave it behind a small curtain at his front door. Later they would pick up the empty dishes and return them to the kitchen. So, decidedly either a genius or a madman, but either way I was much intrigued by this character.
We talked to one woman who had left her 13 year old son at the temple for a few days. It was so interesting to hear her describe how she handles her son. I guess he was not doing as well as he could at school, and not focusing, and basically, well, being a teenager. She got frustrated with it finally and decided to drop him off at the temple for a few days to "think about his life, and where he is going". It was so funny, because we all just though, man...I'd have just gotten sent to my room....
She was just so cool and calm about it, like everything would work itself out, and he just needed time to himself to focus and think about his future. It was so perfectly zen. I loved it.

Anyways, the following are some pictures from the temple. This first one is of the main building. It has 3 floors, and the second one is where the meditations are done, and is also where the rest of the pictures are taken.
It's a bit of an oddity as far as temples go. Most are only 2 stories tall, in Korea. It also seemed a bit disappointingly modern to me at first.... There was a t.v. inside, and full electricity. I was expecting a complete absence of modern material things. But, like Tara said, nothing here was what we expected, yet we had a great time.

This is the front of the meditation area. Each Buddha is making a different hand gesture (mantra, I think), and each symbolizes something different.
I mean.... Ommmmmmm.

It was interesting because a lot of the Korean Buddhist figures look quite scary, almost demon like. This picture captures many of Buddha's disciples.

The walls were lines with thousands of these little Buddha's, each with a different gesture. People who practice at this temple, or people who stay at the temple, are given a card on which to write their name. Then they get to pick a Buddha on the wall, and place the card in front of it. This ones mine! I know its a bad picture but it was dark, and a bit out of my reach!
If you don't believe it, I've got both of our buddhas recorded on the video from Korea. COMING SOON!!!

Moving on the the DMZ:

The weather was horrible that day, and we couldn't really see anything which was a disappointment, but I did learn a lot more than I knew about the conflict between North and South Korea.
The first stop we made was to the Peace Bridge, or the Bridge to Freedom. After the war ended, this bridge was the only one left connecting the North and South across the river that divides them. They used this bridge to send home prisoners of war, and civilians who had been separated from their families. Because of this, it is a huge landmark in Korean history.

The bridge is obviously cut off at a certain point but many people who are still separated from their families have left mementos at the end.

After the Peace Bridge we made our way to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel. Unfortunately through most of the day we could not take a lot of pictures so we don't have any great shots. But we did learn some rather interesting facts. There were two that struck me as the funniest.

First a short short history lesson. After the war ended, Korea created the DMZ zone to protect both sides from chance of further battle. Basically where the border separates the country in half, on either side there is a 2 kilometer strip of land where civilians are not allowed, and which is guarded by Korean military and the UN. This is the DMZ. After the DMZ was created, and promises were made of no more war, North Korea decided to try to tunnel their way into the south. Now, they tried this in total 4 times. When SK found the 3rd tunnel, they finally asked NK "why do you keep trying to attack us?? We had an agreement!" Apparently NK responded by saying "we weren't trying to attack you! The tunnel is just a coal mine!"

Now, SK decided to check this out, and found not only was there no coal in the area (contrary to the insistence of NK), but NK actually painted the tunnel black in hopes that they could 'trick' SK into thinking is was a coal mine.


So for those of you who have seen Team America: World Police... well, you know I used to think they were just picking on Kim Jong-Il in that movie, but it's possible that he really IS as crazy as they depict. Painting rocks black to pretend they're coal???? I mean, that sounds like something the guys from South Park would make up!! That has to be the most half-baked scheme ever!!

And as if this is not enough. Though they denied it for some time, eventually NK gave in and apologized. Then when SK opened the tunnel to tour groups a few years ago, NK kicked up a huge stink about it. They said they didn't want it open to the public, and made a huge protest out of it. SK of course would not give in and said too bad, its on our side! When NK realized they couldn't stop SK, they then demanded to get half the profits!! "We made the tunnel!!!" They argued with SK. Therefore we should get some of the profit. Of course SK said no, but I mean....come on. Who else thinks the NK government sounds like an insolent 4 year old? I think Kim Jong Il is ACTUALLY crazy.

Anyways, back to the pictures. At the observation deck there was unfortunately not much to observe given the fogginess of the day, and this is about all of North Korea I could see. We also couldn't get any closer than this with our cameras. We could see a bit more (the North Korean Flag, one of their villages, etc), but we couldn't get close enough with the camera.
Yay grey nothingness!
Thus, unfortunately, as far as I can tell, there still is no such thing as North Korea. These tour groups could have driven me anywhere and said "We swear North Korea is that's just too foggy to see."
It was pretty heavily guarded though...South Korean soldiers were standing around with rifles, and we had to go through several military check points. Oh, that reminds me; apparently both the South and North put their tallest most attractive soldiers at the boarder, in order to intimidate or entice the other side. They also had an unspoken contest wherein they battled to create the BIGGEST national the end the North Koreans won, and actually constructed what may be the largest national flag in the world. Well, hot dawg! It's time to convert to the commie-nism!

This was a bit of a spooky place. The train station built in the DMZ which is supposed to allow passenger trains going through South Korea, up into North Korea, and connecting with the rest of the Asian and Siberian rail systems. Kim Jong Il agreed to the building of the station, so South Korea went ahead with it. Unfortunately just as South Korea finished it, Kim Jong Il decided he no longer liked the idea, and its a bit of a ghost station now. There are military guards inside, though I think they are mostly there for show. It was so deserted though.
Much of the area has been turned into a profitable touristy place. They maintain the station as though it will be used in the near future. You could even pay about $5 to purchase a train ticket to North Korea.....which of course could not be redeemed for anything. The gentle propaghanda videos we watched in the observation area decry the pain of the divided country (which I'm sure is a painful thing for many Korean families), however it did really feel like they were playing up the sympathy for the sappy Western tourists.

Ok, thats all for now. I think one more post should cover the rest of Korea, so look out for it in the next few days. After that, it will be time to see the new house (we went to it this weekend and it ROCKS! I'm so excited!!).
Hope you like the pics!! I miss everyone!!

Love Tara
and Ian

p.s. Tara keeps posting pictures while I'm at work, that's why my comments are just pasted into her post. But I should have some video from South Korea to show soon... I've been working on creating a DVD collection of our greatest hits of 2006, which is now finally completed. But it should be back to editing the new videos soon. Much more to come in the near future!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

More Seoul!

Ok, so continuing from the previous post, the first few pictures were taken at the main Palace, on a gorgeous, but bitterly cold day. It was kind of nice though because the Palace was not very crowed, unlike the temples we saw in Kyoto which were just swarming with people.

We noticed that the Korean Palaces and temples seem to use a lot more vivid colour than the Japanese. Actually you can see it in the traditional clothing as well. While Kimono's can be all sorts of colours, they are not as consistently bright as Korean Han-bok. Actually the other day I had a student tell me that Korean Han-bok looked silly because it was so bright. Its interesting to note the animosity between the two groups of people. Obviously not everyone shares the same feeling, but their history is an obvious sore spot.

This is a picture of the ceiling of the interior of the Palace. The detail that goes into these buildings are amazing. It's also slightly dizzying....

Awwww. Ian made a new friend!!

The last few pictures here are from the night we got taken out for dinner (recall the story in our last post...). We were so happy simply with the area they took us to. Seoul seemed to have so much life. There are all these little 'niche' areas and there always seem to be people around. I imagine Tokyo must be more like that, and I know Osaka is. That is a disappointing part about Nagoya. It is so conservative, and everything closes at 11, which if you know either Ian or I at all, you would know we are night people, making this a very difficult thing to adjust to!

During the weekend, this area of Seoul is closed off the cars, so people just wander freely. They also happened to still have their Christmas decorations up, adding yet another level of excitement to the area. The funniest thing though, was this giant fake keyboard that ran from one end of the strip straight through to the other (a matter of many blocks). It was pretty cool though, and we entertained ourselves on it for a while.

Ok, sorry for the slightly abbreviated version of everything but I am trying to get all the Seoul pictures posted before we move and have another bunch to put up! Our official move date by the way is January 26th, and my last day at Nova is fast approaching (only 6 more actual work days!)
I will post more Seoul pictures in a day or so! Enjoy!

Love Tara

Friday, January 05, 2007

What we learned about The Seoul, Part I

Ok, before I give you the details of our trip, I have one thing to say:
For a country that never even made my list of places to see, South Korea, and Seoul particularily made QUITE the impression on us both. Really - we have ended up wondering if we picked the wrong country to move to!
Not that I am doubting Japan at all. Japan is an amazing country, but the differences between here and South Korea are immense. The food was AMAZING, and cheap, and huge in proportion; the shopping was cheap and cool; the people were loud, pushy, friendly, and outgoing. Everything was great. I really couldn't have asked for a better trip! One downside - Japan has made us was SOOOOOO COLD!!!!!! Oh my gosh it was freezing. And thats not just me talking, because I know I am not the most reliable source for describing temperature - even Ian was freezing!!!! It was a nice relief to get back to Nagoya and its spring like weather! Anyways, I guess I will begin describing our adventure with our arrival in Seoul:

I made a great effort to have everything organized for our trip (we had many tours and sites planned) and for the most part I did ok. Except for one minor thing - since our hostle info was in Ian's email and not mine, I failed to print it off. Soooo we spend the first half hour in Seoul searching the airport for an internet connection! We found one and drew a crude map of where we had to go. We hopped on a bus and made it to our stop safely. However from there we were quite confused. We walked a ways and decided we were lost, so we headed back to the station. This next part will summerize what the people were like to us during our entire trip.
We didn't have any change and needed to phone the hostle so we asked a man if he had any. He says yes, wait here, and takes off running! He runs out of our site...who knows where and then comes flying back with change in his hand. He asked us if we needed any help and we told him our situation. He demanded that he phone the hostle, however the number wouldn't work so he phoned the operator. They had no number listed so we had to yet again find an internet station. We tried to pay, and he refused to let us. We found the map, and he says, oh no...its too far. I will take you.
(Ian says) Around this point I was getting pretty suspicious. The guy seemed SO pushy about helping us. I figured he must be up to something... I suspected he was going to ask us for money after showing us the way... kind of an impromptu tour fee. Despite this, we were at a bit of a loss for options...
So off we go, following this guy down the street. He stopped into a few places asking for directions and even bought us each a hot drink. He continued to lead us all the way to the hostle (a good 15 min walk from the station). He barges in, jabbers something loudly in Korean to the owner and they have a good laugh. Then he turns around, shakes Ian's hand, and takes off! We didn't even have time to offer to take him for a drink! The whole thing was hilarous, and the owner of the hostle was just as loud, friendly, and helpful as him.
I was caught speechless. I wanted to at least offer to take the man out for a drink, but he ran off as quickly as he had appeared. He had been so aggressive, but only insisting that he help us.

The next morning we had our first outing. Yoo's Family (the program that teaches us cooking, tea ceremony, and all that) was our first activity. We found our way easily to the meeting spot and headed with one of the family to the house. It was an amazing old house, actually looking more like a compound of houses in a really nice, older area. These first few pictures are from our visit there.
After an introduction and Tea Ceremony, they seperated the girls and boys and had us try on Han-Bok. Here we are, looking our most Korean!
Hey Mom, Tim, Aaron, Aj, and other highschool folks who might read this: do you think the Korean outfit suits me better, or do you prefer the kimono I wore in highschool? As Tim likes to say...I'm really not helping clear up the heritage confusion issue.

This was the group that did the program with us. 7 of the people were from Bangladesh (invited by the government to South Korea), and the other 4 people were a family. The parents, 2 American's, had adopted 2 Korean children, and this was their first trip back, to see their culture first hand. They were really nice, and the kids were so talkative!

Ian looking like Royalty:
I am great.

After we had changed back into our normal clothes it was time to cook!
Our 2 recipies: Kim Chi, and Korean Pancakes.
The first picture is of Ian attempting to make kim chi. It was a messy process, but it was tasty!

Next it was my turn to try the korean pancakes. They were much easier to make than kim chi, and they tasted DELICIOUS!

As things at the Yoo's place were winding down, one of the sisters asked us if we had any free time while we were in Seoul. We said yeah, and she asked us if we wanted to work for a few hours one night! They offered to pay us and treat us to dinner, so we were like...ummm...yes!
It turns out that they own a travel company, and they make english books about Korean history for children. They needed us to edit the books for them, so the next night we headed on over to their office. It was actually really interesting for us, seeing as we got to read about Korea for 2 and a half hours, adding 'a' and 'the' to every other sentence. Afterwards, they took us to Insa-dong, one of the really popular districts for the most amazing meal!!!
Seriously - I have never seen so much food for only 4 people. This is one of the stark differences between Japan and Korea. In Japan, a quarter of that meal would have fed 8. Hahaha.
After the meal, they handed us 2 envelopes with our money, apologizing that it wasn't much, and that they know we get more in Japan. We thanked them and then went our seperate ways. When we looked at what they gave us, we had to laugh. It was 30,000 Won each which is probably about 40 dollars. More than we would make at Nova!!!

Man, the food was soooooooo goood. Apparently, our host only had to pay for the meat (about 4 racks of ribs), and the rest (a variety of salads, rice, noodles, and pickled vegetables) was all included as extra. You grill the meat on a small round barbeque in the centre of the table. Of the many dishes, everyone is encouraged to dig in with their chopsticks and eat as much as possible; so we couldn't help but feel very at home, and welcome with these people. Everything has a delicious burning red pepper spice to it also, which is quite addictive (if you like spicy food... sorry Meaghan, don't go to Korea! should probably move there for good) so you just keep eating and eating and ..... mmmmmmm......

Anyways, getting back to our first day activities:
After we left the Yoo's house, we decided to head towards the main castle, Gyeongbokgung. It was really neat to see the differences between a Korean Castle and a Japanese Castle. The Korean ones are much more colourful I think.

Yes, the temples were quite colourful. Meaghan, you would like maybe you should go to Korea, just beware of the food, because you would probably combust. Actually, the Koreans need to cut back on the spice evidently, because they have the highest rate of intestinal illnesses in the world. Seemingly, a direcct result of their lust for spice.
Despite being beautifully sunny out, it was sooooo cold, so unfortunatly we didn't feel like wandering for too long around the grounds, but it really was impressive.

These 4 pictures are just a taste of the outside. I will post the remaining castle pictures on the next post, since this one is already super big.
Keep checking the site though, because there is a ton more to come!! This is only 10 out of over 100!!! (I won't really post all 100, but there will be MORE!!!!!)