Halloween Party

Korean students work really hard.  They go to school, then come to after school academy, and then go home to study.  Many of my elementary school students don’t go to sleep until midnight or 1:00am.  Some of them even attend optional classes on Saturday!

My students showing off their “money” – they’re rich!

In recognition of this, my school had a Halloween party on Wednesday.  We wanted to give something back to the students, and let them have a little fun for once!

My classroom, transformed into the Pumpkin Restaurant

It was great.  Based on how many points they’ve accrued (for doing homework or well on tests), they could ‘buy’ candy, food, movie tickets (we set up a theater just for this purpose!), or play Gamble Quiz.  To play Gamble Quiz, you had to pay 2,000 “won,” pull out a ticket, and hope it had a number on it.  If it did, you had to answer an English question and could potentially win a prize.  Some tickets had nothing written on them! So many students blew ALL of their money this way, but it was entertaining nonetheless.  Andy and Yujin were the hosts, and they were hilarious.

Yujin and the gambling crowd

I manned the candy table.  As usual, the younger crowd (grades 1-4) bought most items, so when the older students arrived (5-6), there was almost nothing left.  However, the older students had a lot less points and couldn’t buy as much, so it probably evened out.  In the end, I started bribing them with my personal candy supply – pose for a photo, receive a piece of candy.  Otherwise it’s impossible to take photos of students, especially girls.  They’re very shy.

Andy’s 5th and 6th grade girls

I think most students had fun, although the next day they claimed they didn’t because they didn’t have enough points… Still better than classes, right?


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The Day the Fireworks Were Canceled

I’ve been attending a lot of festivals recently.  Before I even came to Korea, I knew about Busan’s annual fireworks festival, which is one of the best.  I was super excited and planned on going for months.  Finally, the date rolled around and I went.  Of course, that same day, we had some torrential rain and it was canceled.  I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

Found him.

That doesn’t mean I wasted a day in Busan! Emily, Andy, and I visited Shinsegae Centum City, the largest department store in the world.  It was tremendous… 14 floors, including a golf course, a park, a movie theater, an ice rink, a spa, a wax museum, tons of restaurants and shops, and more.  The basement even has a replica of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

We were there for a bit of shopping, but afterwards we had a some lunch (next to the ice rink, naturally).  While wandering around, we realized we could do a package deal on Madame Tussaud’s and the Busan Aquarium – both places I’d never been.  We decided to go for it!

Andy and one of his neighbors

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum was a bit small, but I was surprised by how lifelike most of the replicas were.  A few were pretty poor, but these were rare.  Being Korea, everything was made into the biggest photo op possible, including props such as wigs, hats, boas, microphones, etc.

Group shot!

Next stop: Busan Aquarium in Haeundae.  This aquarium is right next to the sea, and it was crazy to see how massive the waves were due to the storm.  We ducked inside for cover and explored.  The best part was the underwater tunnel, where you could see sharks and other creatures swimming overhead.  Busan also offers scuba diving in the shark tank, something I am considering!

hermit crab in a clear shell

Since the festival was canceled, we caught KTX back to Daegu and ended the night downtown.  It was fun to see everyone’s Halloween costumes, although it’s not huge in Korea like it is back home.  All in all, a good (but wet) day.

Will this be me?
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Mungyeong: Exploring rural Korea

Most Korean citizens live in identical high-rises in the cities.  These white towers climb 20 stories or more.  Having a house is almost unknown, unless you live in the country.  These days, however, younger people are flocking to the cities and droves and leaving the country pretty much empty.  I’ve never really had a reason to visit these remote locations… until recently.

I signed up for a day trip with the Daegu Compass, a local publication for foreigners.  We were originally going to go salmon fishing (with our hands!), but due to low water levels this was canceled.

We did many different things instead, and really enjoyed the countryside.  It’s easy to forget how beautiful Korea is when you can’t see anything but apartment blocks.  So many gorgeous mountains and beautiful rivers!

Omija berries

First, we went to an omija farm and made soap.  Omija is a five-flavored berry used mainly for tea.  We put some of the omija essence in our soap! Definitely a random activity, but we needed something to occupy the salmon-fishing time slot.

Making soap – mine is a robot!

Then we wandered outside to a giant pool full of salmon.  The farm employees hopped in there with nets and wrangled up a few fish.  One of our group was brave enough to try it himself! The water was only about knee-deep in some places, as opposed to chest-high, so it wasn’t as challenging as it would normally have been.

Posing with our lunch

After the fish were caught, the employees cut some up sashimi-style and threw some on the grill.  It was delicious!

on the grill

We then had a lovely bibimbap lunch at a restaurant nearby.  As if we weren’t full enough, we drove to an apple orchard to pick fruit.  The apples were huge! Mungyeong, the city we were in, is well-known for its apples.

Orchard in Mungyeong

One last activity to fill our itinerary… shooting! We went to the Mungyeong Shooting Range, which is located in a beautiful valley.  Koreans are forbidden from owning guns; there’s not even hunting in this country.  The military and police are the only exception.  A shooting range, therefore, is your only opportunity to hold or shoot a weapon.  I’d never been to a shooting range before, but I was pretty excited to try it out.  I opted for pistol shooting, and even got to aim at a paper target on the wall! Considering I’d never held a gun before, I think I did pretty well.

Just check out that inner circle!!
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Jinju Lantern Festival

Jinju, a city in South Gyeongsan province, is well-known for many things.  It is the site of the first and second sieges by the Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-3), home of yukhoe bimimbap, or raw beef mixed rice, and also the location of the annual Lantern Festival.

Pre-illumination

It was the last thing that brought me all the way to Jinju one weekend.  I’d heard great things about this festival – these lanterns are better described as illuminated works of art, from traditional to contemporary.

Just switched on!

A group of friends and I caught an early bus to Jinju and wandered around the city until we found a motel.  We then tried the delicious yukhoe bimbimbap you read about earlier.  The lanterns were all over the river and neighboring parks.  We strolled around a park and witnessed the first signs of fall – crisp, cool air and changing leaves.  As we were admiring the soldiers, the lanterns turned on.

Superman

The river is where all of the action was… not only were the lanterns beautiful, but the reflections on the black water made it twice as pretty.  It definitely created a new challenge for me and my DSLR, but I think some of the shots came out okay.

OMG a dinosaur!!

While sitting on the riverbank and admiring the view, some of the homemade paper lanterns came floating to our spot.  These paper lanterns each contained a small candle.  Due to the current of the river and the small bushes by the bank, they were gathering in a small mass.  Unfortunately… some of the lanterns caught on fire! We were watching this for a while (out of any danger) until some police showed up.  They seemed pretty baffled and just poked the lanterns with a big stick until the fire went out.  Crisis averted.

A moving, smoking dragon

The next day, we were pretty tired, and caught an early(ish) bus home.  I definitely recommend this festival for any interested parties!! We took a bus from Daegu to Jinju and easily found a motel the day of.

in the lantern tunnel

Doing their job
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N Seoul Tower

At over 1,500 feet above sea level, the views from N Seoul Tower are fantastic.  At the base of the tower, there is a park where visitors can relax and children can play.  There are also multiple gates on which to affix love locks, a popular symbol in South Korea.

Love locks are personalized padlocks that couples lock onto something to symbolize everlasting love… pretty cheesy.  Korea loves love, and so that’s right up their alley!

Seoul, South Korea

Andy and I visited Seoul Tower right before Chuseok in October.  The park was surprisingly busy, and we were even lucky enough to witness a Joseon Era weapons display.  Due to the holiday, many people were also playing Korean traditional games.  It was a fun atmosphere to say the least!

Playing yutnori, a traditional Korean boardgame
N Seoul Tower
Love locks – so heavy that the gate is bending!
Ancient weapons display

We took the subway to Myeongdong Station, and then walked to the cable car station.  If you’re interested, you can buy padlocks there.  You can then ride the cable car to the base of the tower.

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Chuseok Vacation – Kyoto, Japan

Every fall, Korea observes its annual harvest holiday, Chuseok.  During Chuseok (추석), Koreans leave the cities and return to their ancestral hometowns.  In many ways, it is similar to American Thanksgiving (without the turkey!).

Unfortunately Chuseok fell on a Sunday this year (so much for the three-day holiday…), but we still managed to take a trip.  Andy and I choose Kyoto, Japan.

This post is very picture-heavy.  If you’re interested in seeing my photos, click the following link.

Andy at a ramen shop
conveyor belt sushi – this one is tuna
at Fushimi Inari, a Shinto shrine famous for its thousands of orange gates
5-story wooden pagoda at Toji Temple
maiko (apprentice geisha) outside of Gion Square, a well-known theater in the neighborhood
sukiyaki (Japanese hotpot with meat and vegetables) at an izakaya (Japanese pub)
Tenryuji, Temple of the Heavenly Dragon
Andy in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Salmon roe (fish eggs) for sale at Nishiki Market

The trip was super fast 🙁 although it might have been a blessing in disguise, because Japan is certainly the most expensive country I’ve ever visited.  Even more than Switzerland in my opinion, although some people might disagree…

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Freaky Food: Yukhoe Bibimbap (육회비빔밥)

Every region of Korea has its own culinary specialty.  A group of friends and I found ourselves in Jinju (Gyeongsangnam-do) last weekend, and we decided to sample some local flavor.  Jinju is known for yukhoe (pronounced yook hway) bibimbap – raw beef mixed rice.  While some people may have eaten raw beef before, I hadn’t.  In Japan, I had a dish with raw egg and felt squeamish… surely I would contract salmonella or worse! But it was fine (and delicious), and part of being a traveler is trying new things.  Otherwise, why bother?

A new Korean friend took us to a local market where we could find a few restaurants, including one that specialized in this dish.  There was literally a line out the door and around the corner, always a good sign!

We went upstairs.  Sat down.  Looked at the neighboring table.  They had ordered an entire plate of raw beef, which looked pretty scary.  Hesitantly, we ordered our dishes and awaited our future food-poisoning…

But then this came:

yukhoe bibimbap - raw beef mixed rice in Jinju, South Korea

It was delicious.  The bibimbap alone was really great, with lots of veggies and other goodies, but the meat was super flavorful.  The beef seasoning included soy sauce, sesame oil, and even Korean pear, which is pretty traditional.  I ate an entire bowl and half of Andy’s!

This particular restaurant also served a bowl of beefy, oniony soup with each order.  The banchan were radish kimchi, pickled radish, and ojingeojeot (fermented squid – sounds gross but is amazing).  All in all a great place!

Freaky Food: Yukhoe bibimbap (raw beef mixed rice)
Verdict: A must-try!

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Andy’s Family’s Visit

Last month, Andy’s family came to Daegu.  Unfortunately, so did Typhoon Sanba – yet we managed to find some things to do.

First, there was a baseball game.

Samsung Lions (Daegu) vs. Lotte Giants (Busan)
Go Lions!!

Then we tried makgeolli and shabu shabu.  Yum!

During the storm, we ducked into an arcade for good old-fashioned fun.

The Champion

We feasted on duck-in-pumpkin… (Andy and I will find any opportunity to do so!)

at Goya in Igok-dong

And finally, we explored Apsan, one of Daegu’s protecting mountains.

I can see my house from here!

Andy and his family also explored Busan while I had to work.  Their trip definitely flew by!! It was really great to see some familiar faces.  Also fun to see Korea from a newbie’s eye – we might still be fairly new ourselves but it’s so easy to become accustomed to the oddities of Korean culture.

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Typhoon: Sanba

Typhoon Sanba hit South Korea earlier this week.  It was hailed as a Super Typhoon, Category 5, but by the time it descended onto Daegu it was little more than a strong tropical storm.  Other parts of Korea were not so fortunate, but living in an inland valley does have its perks.

Whatever the classification, the storm still meant lots and lots of rain.  Here are some shots I took (with my new Nikon 3100 – a birthday gift from Andy!!) during and after Sanba.

Downtown

Downtown

The stage downtown

Ominous clouds over 2.28 Memorial Park

Finally, some sun!

View of downtown Daegu after the storm

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Freaky Food: Beondegi Round 2

About 3 months, Andy and I faced one of our fears… eating bugs! Beondegi are super popular snacks at Korean events or even sold in stores, similar to popcorn or nuts.  I remember very clearly my distaste for this snack… but Andy wasn’t convinced.  A second round was in order.  Watch the verdict below.

Don’t forget my original post on beondegi!

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