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).