Thursday, December 24, 2009

merry christmas to all ... !

apologies for the minor hiatus, things have been in a holiday whirlwind around here.

mark's mom, klara, safely arrived in korea last night, and had a suitcase (or two) full of christmas presents in tow. we can lovingly refer to her as korean santa, as well. we are very excited that she's here to help us celebrate the holidays.

tonight, in celebration of christmas eve, we had reservations after work at one of our favourite duck barbecue restaurant. after a delicious dinner, we headed home for gift exchange and cake eating - as per korean christmas tradition. a huge thank you to EVERYONE who sent gifts to us, we are lucky to have such generous and thoughtful friends and family members! mark and i were royally spoiled this season. not that i mind, of course. i am very happy that santa was able to find us all the way in korea, and i now i am equipped with new clothes, pajamas, and socks, canadian olympic gear, much-needed toiletries, a plethora of december-issue magazines, and groceries! oh poptarts and instant oatmeal how i've missed thee. a special thank you not only to mom/santa (love!), but to jenn g, paige, nicole, cindy, natalie, and bouche for the surprise package - i love and miss you girls!

we spent the rest of the evening packing and preparing for the second half of our destination christmas: tomorrow morning we are off to tokyo - merry japanese christmas to us! and merry regular christmas to you!

love, alex & mark xoxo

Monday, December 14, 2009

돌잔치: baby's first birthday

turning 1 in korea is a really big deal. such a big deal, in fact, that your parents will throw a giant wedding-like celebration in your honour, complete with unlimited buffet and booze and 100+ of your closest friends and colleagues (or, er, their closest friends and colleagues, rather).

this past saturday, mark and i + madeline and our favourite korean teachers, were invited to celebrate the 1-year anniversary (doljanchi, or
돌잔치) of the youngest son of our vice-principal ... whose other son also happens to be my student, ray - just to complicate your understanding of our relationship to the party-throwers.

we were initially a little awkward about going: we'd be the only english-speaking foreigners, we didn't want to impose on a traditional family event, we potentially had other more "fun" things to do with our saturday night. yet, the VP insisted we were welcome, and there was a free buffet. also, when it comes down to it, it's important to us to experience unique things about korean culture and this sure beat an all-night foreigner party in seoul, culture-wise.

while 1st birthday celebrations were originally extra-significant due to low infant-mortality rates, the purpose is now more an elaborate tradition. one the most important rituals performed at this party is called doljabi, or the opportunity for the baby to "choose" his future. this little bit of predestination is done by presenting the baby with a tray of six objects representing his life path, and whichever one he selects is symbolic of his fate. in this case:
  • a piece of string/long life
  • money/wealth
  • a microphone/a performer: musician, host, entertainer, etc.
  • a stethoscope/a doctor
  • a computer mouse/a computer technician, programmer, pro-gamer (?)
  • a pencil/a scholar or academic
after hearing stories of this event, i wondered how accurate the selection process could be. what happened if the baby chose nothing? what if he simultaneously chose two objects? i was disappointed that none of the koreans who'd accompanied us to the party could remember what had happened at their own 1st birthdays.

nevertheless, as we arrived at the banquet hall we were asked to drop our ticket stub - or vote - into one of the six suitable destinies' assigned jars for a chance to win a prize if our choice matched the baby's. i somewhat arbitrarily chose a computer mouse, and mark voted for the stethoscope.

while we indulged in the buffet, the performance began at the head table. literally, the baby's party had a wedding-like head table! mom and dad and baby (and ray), all dressed in matching hanbok and accompanied by an emcee, presented the birthday boy with his tray of items. despite his tears and evident unhappiness of being in the spotlight/blaze of camera flashes, he ended up picking the stethoscope - thus, a future doctor - and also, making mark a winner!

make that, the only winner.

yes, somehow, with a guest list of nearly 100 attendees, mark was the only person to predict the stethoscope choice. as the parents had pre-planned for 3 prize winners, the emcee then had mom choose a vote from her #1 choice for baby, and then dad do the same. this resulted in maddie being randomly selected for a prize as well! luck of the foreigner, i suppose.

all in all, it was a fun night and a really interesting experience. i also enjoyed the plethora of cute korean babies and children at the party, including a coworker's 3-year-old son who won me over completely with his talent of winking and saying "i love you" in english. and in the end, mark's prize turned out to be rose-scented body lotion and shower gel, so guess who's the winner after all?

wink ! ^.-

Saturday, December 12, 2009

cute overload

i really want a korean child. with dance moves.

(via buncha banchan)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

o christmas tree

so, i gave in and dragged mark to the minimal christmas section of lotte mart tonight. i'd be trying hard to let my frugal conscience (wait, my what?) do the decision-making and recognize that decorating our apartment for the holidays isn't necessary since we're leaving for vacation on december 25th ...

but, that ideology didn't really work.

our apartment felt sad without a christmas tree. i'm a sucker for the holidays, and a tree is the most important part! i know that christmas this year is going to be significantly different than years prior, what with being on the other side of the globe and all, but that's no reason to dismiss its excessiveness entirely. despite its only one-time use (for us, i promise i'll try to recycle it to new friends), a 20,000 artificial tree felt like a good deal.

i haven't yet determined whether south korea's lack of hype about christmas is going to be a blessing or a curse. sure, there are a few lights and decorations here and there around our neighbourhood; mostly in storefronts and restaurants, and of course, the life-size creepy and bald/hat-less santa that went up in our school's lobby this afternoon ... but you definitely aren't inundated with christmas in this country. i'm sure it could pass somewhat unnoticed if you wanted it to.

but really, who would ever want to do that??

our tiny tannenbaum is no griswold family christmas tree, but it suits us just fine.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

elf yourself has reached new levels

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

ah, it's that time of year again! this, of course, had me in hysterics. i would've posted the "disco" themed one, but there were far too many choreographed elf pelvic thrusts involved ...

happy december from your favourite christmas elves, like woah!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

it's the most wonderful time of the year

while the weirdness of being away from home at christmastime deserves a blog post all of its own, i did want to share the exciting news that we're jet-setting to japan in one month today.

iiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeee !!!!!!!!!!!! (that's a high-pitched squeal of excitement.)

i also kind of love using exciting terms like "jet-setting." it makes me feel really glamorous.

mark's mom, klara, is coming to visit us for 9 days, and we're booked to fly to tokyo on christmas day. so yes, notwithstanding being out of canada and absent from family gatherings, flying to japan for the holidays will make 2009 officially the most bizarre christmas in the history of alex.

on a totally separate note, hopefully we'll get to experience the wonders of the subway while we're there:

or, not? oh dear god. that sort of puts the TTC fair hike and subsequent drama to shame. i wonder how much the subway in japan is?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

oh baby, it's cold outside

it's freaking freezing in korea. and when it's cold in korea, you eat jjigae, or stew, to keep warm. above, a hot bowl of kimchi jjigae served in a stone hot pot will warm you up (and clear your sinuses).

while we experienced a cold snap several weeks ago that lasted 2-3 days, potentially due to neighbouring china's cloud-seeding overdose (and their subsequent early-november blizzard), the frigid temperatures quickly passed, autumn returned, and i danced a figurative dance of joy that i didn't need to invest in a winter coat yet.

well, i spoke (or, danced) too soon. winter seems to be here; seoul's currently got lower temperatures than toronto. whaaat ... NO. this does little for my we've-escaped-the-shitty-canadian-climate gloating. for the record, it's currently -3°C in the greater seoul area.

and while i thoroughly enjoy the ondol heating that warms our apartment, the heat at school is another story. our boss finally gave us the heads up the other week that the "warm wind" was now available for the individual heating+air conditioning combo in our classrooms, and we obviously suppressed giggles at his inadvertent fart joke. why the building is designed in the opposite fashion of the very-effective-and-ubiquitous system of this country is beyond me. never mind that it's a challenge enough to get my students to refrain from opening the windows (and hanging out of them) or turning the thermostat dial in the classroom at their leisure (to which my protests of "teacher only!" are futile), but the heating units are in the ceiling ... and heat rises ... and ...


so most of my students are wearing their coats in class. and while the room eventually reaches a nice degree of cozy, you open the door to the hallway and meet a cold blast of frigid air, as the halls are unheated. oh, and all the windows are open in the stairwell. and bathrooms. and walking from my classroom to the teachers' office is sort of like travelling through siberia. i am confused at the theory behind all this. wouldn't it make more sense to heat the entire building?

regardless, winter has apparently arrived in this part of the world, and i suppose it's time to get used to it. i even gave in and went shopping for a coat. time to wear it, in class (while eating jjigae).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

now that i'm on an extended vacation ...

... i've got time to update the blog on a more-than-once-a-week schedule!

the results of my swine flu test came back positive, and i've been assigned a work-mandated leave from school. until potentially next week. eep! while i don't mind the unexpected vacation (especially since i'm no longer feeling inches from death), i do mind feeling like a leper that no one wants to be near. and i resent not being allowed to go into work and not being paid for days off that i didn't choose to take! but i digress ...

yesterday, amid my couch lounging and mad men season 3 marathon, mark was at school experiencing the wonders of 빼빼로 day - or "pepero" day, for non hangul readers. while november 11th is a noted day of remembrance for north americans, in korea, it's a day to ... give, receive, and eat chocolate sticks. pepero, or pocky as they're known at home and in founding japan, come in many different varieties and flavours; everything from your original "biscuit with choco" to almond covered or chocolate filled. to homemade candy coated pepero. or fat cigar-sized sticks of pepero. you name it. and as the date on november 11th resembles four sticks (11/11), it is well suited for this commercial holiday er, "holiday." needless to say, i was quite envious of the haul mark teacher brought home with him last night.

so yes, i've got a free and clear sched
ule for the next few days while i recover from the much-feared h1n1. i have to admit that i don't mind the minor celebrity status it's brought me - many facebook friends have come out of the woodwork to confirm my swine-y status and wish me a speedy recovery. ooh internet fame!! it's been lovely company to my lonely days of quarantine. well, that and the pile of 빼빼로, of course.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

feeling swine-y

after all my complaining about south korea's overreation to h1n1, i may have overreacted myself this past weekend.

that being said, i won't know for sure until friday, when my (very expensive) test results are handily sent to me via text message. but yes, i spent this past weekend feeling very close to death; complete with alternating chills and sweats, a chesty/phlegmy cough, lack of appetite and a 3-day-long headache. it was very very very very very awful.

mark dutifully accompanied my whiny and complain-y self to the emergency room at the hospital in uijeongbu on sunday, as that was all that was open. i still have yet to determine whether that was an overreaction in itself - it seems to be the korean thing to do, to go directly to the hospital when needing any kind of medical attention. and swine flu is currently the #1 cause for health concerns in this country. yet, any ER is overwhelming. and while i wanted my feeling terrible-ness to get checked out, i felt sort of awkward waiting temporarily next to beds with visibly sick and writhing and needingmuchmoreattentionthanido patients.

regardless, a helpful nurse who spoke english (thankgod!) accompanied me for "plu testing", which involved sticking a massive swab up my nose and sealing said swab in a sterile container. and ... that was it. they asked me my symptoms and swabbed me. then the administration desk tried to charge me ₩500,000 (more than $450CDN) for the test as i'd forgotten my insurance card. nevermind the fact that i felt so out of it i'd spelled my own name wrong on the hospital admittance form, i knew this was a ridiculous sum, bacon death or not. thankfully, behind-the-desk personnel did some deeper investigation, and realized i'd been to the hospital before and my insurance information was in their computers. as a result, i left with 5 days worth of tamiflu, and one swine flu test - results pending - for ₩89,000 ($80CDN). the whole ordeal took less than an hour.

so, now that i'm feeling better, i'm interested to find out these test results. though i won't know how to overreact to finding out i have swine flu ... you know, when i don't have it anymore.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

goodbye october

it was a happy halloween indeed. in the end, the costumes didn't end up coordinating, but they were both respectively fabulous. (that's mark behind the mask, just in case you were confused.) this indian and monkey butler headed to a house party in uijeongbu with some of our costumed friends and had an excellent night.

in other breaking news, we were informed today of the long-awaited fate of our apartment: we're keeping it! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! though i may not have mentioned it on here, we went into our contract aware that the lease on our wonderful 3-bedroom abode would be expiring at the end of august. and from there, they wanted to shuttle us into an officetel, or one-room apartment for the two of us. i don't know what sounds like relationship bliss to you, but rooming together in dorm-sized accommodations is not it! knowing well in advance that we'd be unhappy with the new digs, we responsibly staged our protest months ago.

however, when things get done korean-style, it's sometimes at a snail's pace. and there are often a lot of vague responses to requests and pleas and no clear answers. our lease ended up being extended until the end of october, which just sort of extended this excruciating situation. last week, when november first was looming at the end of our calendars, both mark and i were hesitant to bring it up. because it's also korean-style to get-it-done-last-minute. i was dreading hearing on the friday that we'd have to pack up and move sunday.

but despite all this anxiety, our answer's finally here and it doesn't involve downsizing! we're relieved and elated and, needless to say, busy preparing for a celebratory "housewarming."

Monday, October 26, 2009

halloween's a-coming

and this may or may not be my inspiration for this year's costume:

mark vetoed wayne & garth (boo!). and for whatever reason, i'm really drawn to wearing a feather-y headdress.

still brainstorming ...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

makeover, makeover !

mark to the rescue ...

this past weekend inadvertently became the weekend of haircuts. our kiwi friend charles showed up at our door on sunday evening with an "urgent" need for mark's clippers. turns out he'd had a drunken all-nighter-into-morning in seoul and in a blurry turn of events, hair cutting with korean cooking scissors had seemed like an ingenious idea. mark helped him (soberly) sort out his lopsided self-'do.

and on saturday, as mentioned, i finally succumbed to my own avoidance of korean hairstylists, and got my 6 months of neglect dealt with. on a recommendation from a co-worker, i went to see michelle at the green turtle in itaewon, who did an amazing job. if you're looking for highlights and/or a good haircut, make an appointment (02)790-6696; a full head + cut only cost me ₩75,000. finding a stylist who knows foreign hair is key for colouring, unless you're ok with orange! bonus, i now semi-resemble garth with my glasses on. shwing!

so, here's the before ...
... and the after

my students told me "teacher! hair: bright" and "you, dye?" (which i briefly misinterpreted as "you die!"). they also made hand gestures in front of their foreheads which i'm assuming is the universal sign for bangs. i suppose you can't ask for much from foreign children in the way of new hairdo commentary.

Friday, October 16, 2009

the last two weeks in review, as per usual

here's a page or two out of our post-china day planner:

we went to the seoul grand park zoo and it was sunny and perfect fall weather. the zoo in seoul is the tenth largest in the world and has a chair lift to transport you from the entrance of seoul grand park to the animals (see pic). the park is situated in a valley south of seoul, and the lift takes you through trees and over a lake. it was awesome. we bought tickets to the dolphin show for only 2,000 and were definitely the only foreigners + the only people over the age of 10 who didn't have an entourage of children ...

last weekend, we went to an awkward and entertaining "dinner party" at our wealthy bosses' ... ahem ... estate. the lees don't speak any english, so events with them are always more entertaining after a few drinks when communication becomes through charades instead of through a fumbling english translation (think, 5 minutes of loud and emphatic korean paused for a 1 and a half minute english blurb that makes you wonder if that was really what was said).
and while they live in an apartment like 95% of the korean population, their flat was stunning. marble floors, over 5 crystal chandeliers, the hugest non-projector flat screen television i've ever seen. they even have hired help. we drank very expensive whiskey and hula hooped in their living room. it was sort of awesome.

i've been keeping busy during the week as i've joined the local gym. and while it has adequate facilities (free personal training, free work out clothes, indoor driving range anyone?) the machines are a little more out-dated. and by out-dated, i mean potentially in a 1980s time warp. move over goodlife, this workout club offers not only treadmills, recumbent bikes, steppers, and weight machines, but also the dream healther. hello, old school. literally, it's a machine with a platform that vibrates to shake all your fat away. and while standing on it for five minutes is recommended, so is placing your hands instead of your feet on the platform. uhh, what? alternative butt-in-the-air fat jiggling? the gym also has two (currently nameless) machines that have the giant elastic that fits over your ass to wiggle your gluteus maximus skinny. yes, like this. while i'm really skeptical of how efficient fat-jiggling is when it comes to weight loss, i suppose you could take a look at the size of most locals around here ... i'll report back with my results.

tomorrow, i'm off to brave the hairdressing world of korea. i've been putting off cutting my hair, despite there being 3 salons on every block around here. but after 6 months of highlight grow-out and trimming my own bangs, i've given in. it's overdue. i even got a "teacher! hair half yellow half brown!" today, just to cement my need for an appointment. perfect.

and finally: yes, that's right. 6 months. SIX MONTHS! what a crazy feeling to pass over the hump of our year here. less time to go than what we've already got under our belt. the passage of time has officially boggled my mind.

Monday, October 5, 2009

mark and alex in china

we spent the last four days in china and it was jam-packed and awesome.


we left early thursday morning, and arrived in beijing around 2:30pm and met our tour group at the airport. we lucked out, as despite it being a holiday weekend in both korea and in china, there were only 9 people on our tour (and as we would soon find out, the number '9' to the chinese means 'super', so, agreed). thursday, being the first of october, marked the 60th anniversary of the people's republic of china, and thus our arrival coincided with a massive celebration, including a huge light show and 3-D fireworks in tian'anmen square. instead of seeing the spectacle in-person (which would have been lovely in theory, but realistically: being packed like a sardine into a sea of people + high security = not likely/not fun), we happily watched the live broadcast from our cozy hotel room after visiting the temple of heaven, eating peking duck, and watching a cirque-du-soleil-rival-worthy acrobatic show - seriously, amazing!


on friday, we started our day early and headed out of the city to the great wall, which is about an hour outside of beijing. however, first our tour decided to stop at a jade factory (ie, wholesale shop). this was our first experience with the blatant buy-buy-watch-our-salespitch-and-be-swayed theme that underlined a lot of our tour. somewhat terrible ... but mostly just boring! i didn't want to buy an overpriced gaudy-looking bangle, and mark definitely didn't! we were sort of annoyed to have to wait around for 45 minutes while several of our tour-mates got duped, but i suppose all is part-and-parcel of participating in a heavily itinerary-oriented organized tour.

we got to the great wall just before midday, and it was nothing short of spectacular. though, as we approached, you could see the masses of human traffic trying to simultaneously ascend and descend ... eep! the crowds were, well, crowds. and the trek was steep! this made for a hazardous climb as people would stop to take breaks and to take pictures and you'd have to wait. i'm not sure what i was expecting, but it was hard work! i rewarded myself with a cheesy "i climbed the great wall" t-shirt. totally deserved.

friday's lunch was at a chinese food place which was delicious - that being said, i had nothing but rave reviews for everything we ate in beijing. we drank a shot of stronger-than-soju liquor that i can't remember the name of. lunch (as well as thursday night's dinner) was served on multiple plates for sharing on a lazy susan in the centre of the table. convenient!

in the afternoon we drove past the olympic village for photo opportunities of the beijing national stadium (aka, the "bird's nest") and the national aquatics center (aka, the "water cube"). olympic village included, beijing has some phenomenal architecture.

we also visited the summer palace, an ancient residential lakeside sprawl where emperors and empresses used to live. mostly, it just made me realize how boring and/or non-existent canadian history is. my apologies to history lovers and supporters, but canada's past doesn't hold a candle to the tumult + beauty + heartbreak + glamour + lavishness + scandal (and so on ...) of asian history.
next, a "chinese tea ceremony" (as our itinerary read). more like, a tea house where we sampled four types of tea (this was cool, no complaints), but then has the option to buy buy buy again! while the teas we tried were all delicious, i don't have a need for a $20CDN small container of loose tea, even if it is authentically chinese. one of our tour-mates spent over $158CDN on tea! wow.

from there, we went for dinner - a traditional mongolian meal called hotpot. this involves having your own pot of boiling sesame broth and putting various items in it, to cook, dip, and eat - mostly thinly sliced meat, leafy veggies, and different kinds of noodles.

on our way back to our hotel, our tour guide asked if anyone would be interested in receiving an in-suite foot massage back at the hotel. um ... yes please! after a tiring day, and an epic great wall climb, my feet, legs, entire body, were aching. only 150yuan (about $22CDN) for an entire hour. needless to say, i received the best. massage. i. have. ever. had. it started with a hot foot soak in tea while my back, neck, and head were rubbed. and pulled. and twisted. while i was sitting upright, she pushed her own feet into my back while pulling my arms backwards towards her. potentially very weird ... but it just felt so good! she then did my feet, ankles, and calves. at the end, she got right on top of me and stretched and massaged by thighs. thank god our tour guide had suggested getting a female masseuse, or it may have been awkward city.


the morning began with a tour of the forbidden city and tian'anmen square. the forbidden city is the winter sister to the summer palace, and is the largest palace in asia. it was beautiful but very very crowded, as not only is it china and has over 1 billion residents, but saturday was also the country's mid-autumn festival. holybusyandextremelyovercrowdedicansmellthepeoplearoundmebecausetheyare
waytooclosetome. mark enjoyed himself because he got stopped by more than five different chinese tourists asking to take a photo with him because he's "very handsome". ego boosts all around. tian'anmen square (where the 60th anniversary party had been held two days prior) was an absolute zoo. i don't think i've ever been in a throng of people that large, for such a long period of time!
after lunch, we went to the pearl market and the silk market, and had the opportunity to buy both, if so desired. then to yashow market for hours in haggling-for-knockoffs heaven. five floors of stalls/booths (vaguely resembling dongdaemun markets in seoul) selling "designer" shoes, bags, clothes, coats, watches, electronics, souvenirs, you name it. i don't want to talk about my specific purchases to protect their knockoff identity (mark already told me i'm ridiculous, don't worry), but you can't tell its not real, and therefore: deals! success! what a rush ... i wish we hadn't spent all our money + had more room in our suitcases so we could have gone back for more. we got so good at haggling for low prices, i was incredibly impressed with our skills.


our flight left in the early afternoon, so we spent the morning exploring the 798 art district; most of the galleries weren't open yet, but we took advantage of the photo opportunities the outdoor sculptures and multiple graffiti walls provided. the area made me simultaneously nostalgic for MIT and queen street west. it was an amazing way to end our trip. and a cheap way too, since our pockets had been successfully emptied at the market the day before.

i give our glimpse of china a 9 (super) out of 10 (perfect).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

beijing or bust

we're off to china tomorrow. very exciting stuff. i'm happy to have a nice long weekend (5 days) and get to see a little sliver of china. even though the country has lots to offer we will just be visiting beijing as we don't have much time off school to travel.
when we decided to come to korea i was greatly intrigued by the possibility that we could travel all over asia. so many countries to go to, so many things to see.
our first foray outside of korea should be a good one.
after acquiring our chinese visa, multiple entry visa and converting some won to yuan we're ready to go.
we'll be visiting all the famous sights like the great wall, forbidden city, tiananmen square and so on.
and can't forget some shopping (i think alex might be most excited about this part).
coincidentally its the 60th anniversary of the peoples republic of china on thursday so who knows what celebrations we might run into while there.

on a separate note, one of my favorite students told me that he is leaving our academy and that today will be his last day.
his name is mike but he would tell me he wanted to change his name daily and would always choose the name of a soccer player. one day he was torres, one day he was beckham, one day he was robbie (keane), next day he was raul, after that he was ronaldo. you get the point.
i've had many students that i don't really care for leave over the past 5 and a half months but this was the first student i really like that is quitting.
he told me that his father wants him to study alone, so after school he will have to study english, math and science on his own at home. poor kid.
turns out, not surprisingly, that his father could no longer afford the academy fees.
i'm not sure what they charge, but i can imagine it's not cheap.

so as i go off to china, i'm sad to see one of my lil' buddies go, but happy to start my traveling adventures outside of korea.


Monday, September 28, 2009

just call us thrill seekers

yesterday, we spent the day at lotte world, one of the largest indoor amusement parks in the world.

lotte world has a massive disney-like castle, as well as an indoor ice rink and a glittering antique carousel. that being said, it didn't have nearly as much sprawl or ride options as what we've got back in the homeland, but it was also only a quarter of the admission price, so not too many complaints. needless to say, as a huge roller coaster lover, i was pretty excited.

as most of the stomach-dropping not-for-children-rides are located on the park's outdoor "magic island" we were worried about the weather forecast (as it was calling for rain). however, the looming clouds must have kept the crowds at bay - it didn't rain and we spent almost zero time in lineups.

while there are a handful of decent thrill rides, lotte world's size really limits its number of roller coasters (there were two, and one was a little head-bashing and concussion-inducing: the french revolution, quite hilariously named though). we enjoyed the gyro drop and gyro swing - very similar to wonderland's drop tower* and psychlone, respectively. however, the lack of good coasters meant we had a lot of time to go on the bumper cars and teacups, also known as "the drunken buckets" - how fitting! more specifically, it meant that our day ended at 4:30pm because we'd conquered the entire park.

lotte world is located just south of the han river in seoul, at jamsil station (exit 2). i'll give our visit a solid 4 gyro drops out of 5. and i will consider it just a warm-up to south korea's (bigger and better) everland.

get me off this drunken bucket!

* when did drop zone become drop tower ?!?

Monday, September 21, 2009

good bye (and good luck!) (and thank you!) sandy teacher

we've had a busy week, and a too-short/one-day weekend. due to the irrational growing fear of h1n1 in south korea, and more specifically, at our little hagwon, school was canceled last friday. and while we had no complaints about an impromptu 3-day weekend at the end of last week, the "make-up" day for cancellation meant classes on saturday, and a 6-day week. and only one lonely sunday free of work commitments. boo-urns.

to bring you up to speed: the flu pandemic is no greater here than at home, south koreans are just huge hypochondriacs. you'd think they'd replace the communal towels in the bathrooms at school before shutting it down for an entire day due to germ-spreading fear (nevermind the nonsense of canceling friday's classes so that everyone's worries will have dissolved by ... monday?) but, anyway.

saturday's work day was also mark's partner teacher sandy's last day at school. she is moving on to bigger and better things (and more specifically, starting her work-free adventures by traveling to singapore and hong kong, awesome!). needless to say, we were pretty sad to say goodbye. we bought her a cake and a card that said "thank you" when it should have said "good luck" ... but thus is the hazard of my poor hangul reading skills. that being said, i suppose thank you still served a purpose! we received good bye presents too - in the form of matching couple mugs! how sweet. my vote is to emblazon this glorious pic on matching t-shirts. i'll let you know if this fantastic idea to jump on the korean-style-bandwagon ever comes to fruition.

other than that, we've more or less been laying low since our island holiday two weeks ago. there are only 10 days left in the countdown to our trip to beijing, china over chuseok (korean thanksgiving) (!!!!!!!!!!!), so down-time and curtailing of frivolous spending is in order. frugal pastime #1 - continuing with my self-run book club. i'm now onto jonathan safran foer's everything is illuminated, which with the opening line: "my legal name is alexander ... but all of my many friends dub me alex, because that is a more flaccid-to-utter version of my legal name." (1) has me swooning already.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

mark's jeju travel log

day 1
  • trip starts out smooth as we get to the airport early
  • but realize we don't know what airline we're flying
  • easily remedied
  • the flight goes smoothly until a couple minutes before landing when i start getting a shooting pain around my eye
  • then alex tells me i have a protruding black lump above my eye
  • i thought my head was going to explode but it didn't (it's not a tumor!) (arnold schwarzenegger) (kindergarten cop)
  • then off to the hotel where we are only moderately out of place being the only foreigners and guests under 50
  • we take a lil' walk around jeju city and visit the dragon's head rock while i nurse my lingering nearly exploded human head
  • later that eve we head out for dinner and get a jeju specialty, black pig
  • some pieces still have remnants of black hairs
  • still extra tasty though
  • visited nearby seaside fair, that had one ride in operation
  • viking ship -yeah!
  • ride promptly shuts down as we approach
  • "finisheed" - captain of the viking ship/korean carnie
  • seaside fair - FAIL.

day 2
  • we get our rental car at 9am
  • it's a sweet hyundai click, but the GPS in the car is only in korean
  • which is essentially useless, but still fun to watch and play with despite alex's contempt for me GPS'ing and driving at the same time
  • the GPS makes super annoying noises when you speed near police cameras, helpful and irritating at the same time
  • i realize how much i miss being able to just cruise places
  • we hit the manjanggul lava tubes first, longest lava tubes in the world
  • they are dark and drippy, therefore not very photogenic, but pretty cool
  • korean women even wear high heels in caves
  • next stop is sunrise peak where we take a lil' hike up to the top for a sweet view of jeju's east coast
  • then off to the waterfall portion of the day where we see the only waterfall in asia that falls directly into the sea, also where a homeless women makes her home and dries her undergarments
  • ear popping drive up korea's highest mountain, not all the way up
  • actually more like part way up and around the side
  • mysterious road is next and turns out to be not so mysterious at all
  • then to alex's highlight of the trip, loveland, a must visit if ever traveling to jeju
  • last stop on the driving tour was a beach on the west coast to hang out and watch the sunset
  • can't forget our lonely planet recommended mexican dinner and of course drinks, delish

day 3
  • have to fill up the gas tank before returning the car which turns out to be easier than i imagined it would be
  • minus a lil' run in with the cops for trying to make an illegal turn
  • i plead foreigner
  • then a last walk around our hotel's hood before heading back to the airport
  • half of the time wandering aimlessly looking for a bank machine
  • sad to head off to the airport and back home but korean children need to learn and without us, not much of that goes on
  • a confused korean air lady tries to tell us our visas aren't valid and we can't travel to seoul
  • luckily she was just stupid
  • i was worried about my exploding head syndrome but nothing happened on the way home
  • cured
  • for less information and more pics look at alex's post below

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

overdue review: 제주도

i wrote half of this a week ago. and then i got lazy and procrastinate-y (uhh ... who, me?) and saved it as a draft with good intentions of finishing and publishing it promptly. then, 7 days accidentally passed. oops. so read this as if it was written last monday, ok? ok.

at the top of seongsan ilchulbong (sunrise peak)

so, we're back from our whirlwind jeju vacation, and i'm missing island life already. the weather was perfect, our seaside hotel was luxurious, and our driving adventure itinerized (yes, i just invented that word) itself perfectly. as far as comparisons to hawaii go, i'm at a loss: i've never been to hawaii. but i can tell you that jeju has palm trees, a dormant volcano, black sand beaches, delicious tangerines, tree-canopied winding mountain roads, and many many coordinated-outfits-honeymooning couples.

i've put aside the best pics for your perusal. my trip advisor tidbit: any journey to asia is worthy of a stop in jeju-do. it's definitely an orange-flavoured dol harubang-filled gem.

seaside boardwalk outside our hotel

our hyundai click

seongsan ilchulbong from a distance

aerial view of seongsan ilchulbong bowl (internet pic)

cheonjiyeon falls

dragon's head rock ... face off

jeju tangerines (and a sweaty post-hike face)

tree canopy on mt. halla, the tallest mountain/volcano in south korea

at jeongbang falls, only falls in asia that fall directly into the sea

i've kept the potentially NSFW pictures from the blog, as we visited loveland, jeju's outdoor sex theme park (awesome!) so there's more to see! (if you're not a work, that is). you can see them here.