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.

Friday, September 4, 2009

off to the land of dol hareubangs

it's another pre-vacation eve for us, and we're too excited to sleep. we're heading out early morning to catch a shuttle to the airport for our flight jeju-do (also known as "korea's hawaii," our post report will confirm) for three days of exploring and relaxation. and monday off work!

mark also successfully got his international driver's license this week. as a recommendation from our friend derek, who recently visited the island, renting a car seriously helped the getting-around factor. it was also fairly easy to obtain, too. mark had to show the required ID and his ontario driver's license and pass a sight test (the colour portion proved a little tricky - who needs to know the difference between red and yellow and green anyway?) and tada! officially internationally eligible to drive. good luck to him, i am too scared shitless to drive in the madness that is asian traffic and traffic rules. or rather, significant lack of traffic rules. i will happily be a passenger/backseat driver/navigator instead.

on another note, i finally got around to putting my prescription in my new cheap and stylish frames. and now i can fully fit in with koreans, as 90% of them rock the oversized plastic frames. i made that statistic up, but i'm sure you follow ...

new glasses for ₩40,000 = $35CDN! hello, i am going to be bringing a suitcase full of reasonably-priced prescription glasses home with me to canada.

happy long weekend!