Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wandering around old downtown

 After being invited to try out salsa dancing in Itaewon (the foreigner district), J and I decided to head out early and spend all day in that area. The reason Itaewon is the foreigner area is because there is a US base located there. And near the US base is the War Memorial. So we decided to go check it out.

[In the top-left picture, you may notice some missile-looking things in the background. Those are, in fact, warheads.]

 We went in the Korean War Museum, which had an exhibit that resembled what it would have looked like after the Korean War. It was pretty depressing. They also had a combat simulation "show." It was also pretty depressing.

Next we went to a Latin club, apparently located on Hooker Hill, for some salsa dancing.

On Sunday we returned to the old downtown, Gwanghwamun, to visit some of the monuments we had missed last time. This was where we were when we went to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace.

First we checked out Independence Gate.

Then we got really lost and finally found ourselves at the Seoul Museum of History. They had this neat-o room with a 1:1500 scale of Seoul.

They had computers which you could use to search for a specific area and these projectors up above the replica would shine lasers around the area. Unfortunately, due to our lack of Korean skills, we were unable to use the search function.

Later, we got lost again looking for the Cheonggyecheon Stream, and instead found a giant bronze statue of King Sejong the great.

You could actually go inside the monument and underground they had a museum dedicated to him. This guy is pretty special in Korea and he often comes up when we're talking about great world figures in class. He is credited with inventing (or at least having his scribes invent) Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Numerous scientific inventions were also invented during his reign.

We did finally find the Cheonggyecheon Stream.

The middle schoolers start coming back this week, so that means I'm back to the regular grind. Next week is the level-up achievement tests, and then there are only 3 weeks until the end of the term. I'm hoping for an easier prep schedule next term. I have about 7-8 hours of prep per week this term, which is a little too much considering I don't get paid for it.

And here's hoping the weather gets warmer soon! Twas a brisk 45 today.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


With the middle schoolers studying hard for their exams, I've had a lot of extracurricular time lately. Last weekend, we went to the zoo and then I wandered around Olympic Park on my Tuesday off.

Resolved to really get the most out of the zoo this time, John and I awoke at the crack of 11, grabbed some street food (this fried cinnamon pancake thing and a bubble tea), and headed back to Seoul Grand Park. I'd like to add that there is more than just the zoo at the Grand Park; there is also a science museum and a large amusement park, but those were for another day. Twas to the zoo we were headed, and having been there once before we wasted no time finding the animals we most wanted to see.

First up were the giraffes who had already gone to bed the last time we went. This bull giraffe was having a special moment with the tree.

Next, we caught feeding time for the hippos. 
You may notice that the one on the right is smaller than the other two. It is not because it is a baby (or calf, as zoo-bies call them), but because it is a pygmy hippo. The poor guy had a whale of a time getting up on that platform.

Next we found ourselves in the Pheasant Pavilion. It wasn't really my favorite pavilion, but I did find my favorite pheasant (I bet you don't even have a favorite pheasant, do you?)

Can you tell why I liked it so much? And who was this Lady Amherst anyway?

Jon and I are huge fans of the big cats and it was really the lions, kings of the savannah, who we were hoping to see. And we did see them, but my pictures are all kind of lame and far away-like. We also saw the tigers feed and watched some rebellious Koreans throw bread at a brown bear.

The animals seemed to be pretty raucous while we were there, which I'm thinking may have something to do with the spring heat. I believe we saw no fewer than four species...ahem...attempt to reproduce, and we also saw some wolves fight (I had forgotten to mention that the scimitar-horned oryx were really going at it last time). Overall, it was an awesome zoo trip. I still can't believe it only cost 3,000 won (about $3).

On Tuesday I headed over to the Jamsil area of Seoul to check out Olympic Park, where the 1988 Summer Olympics were held. It was a beautiful day and the park was really lovely. There's a museum, a fortress of sorts, and of course all the stadia. I walked around for nearly 2 hours and didn't see everything.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sometimes I'm glad I'm not a South Korean Middle School Student

It's exam time for the middle school students (grades 7,8,9) which means that I have a number of canceled classes while they take a break from English Academy to study. So for the next few weeks I have Tuesdays off and half days on Monday, Thursday and Friday. It's pretty good timing since the weather is finally getting nice. Of course, that's money I'm losing out on, but I think appreciate the time more. What shall I do with my free Tuesdays? Well, let me give you a rundown of what I did last Tuesday...

1. Two loads of laundry with bleach AND fabric softener! I got a laundry rack from my friend C, who recently went back home ;( . But it meant that I didn't have to throw my clothes on the floor to dry. Yay for really clean clothes.

2. Worked on my screenplay for Script Frenzy! (The exclamation mark is part of the name).

3. Sat at a cafe and people-watched.

4. Went to the arcade.

5. Watched YouTube videos.

I'd say a pretty successful Tuesday, but I'm hoping to get out and maybe even head to the big city next week. We'll see. In the mean time, I'm just glad I'm an adult who is free to do what I choose and not a middle school student.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Body Bags

In some neighborhoods, you have to buy city-approved garbage bags in which to throw your trash. (I believe the purpose is to deter people from having too much garbage.) If you don't, you may be fined up to 300,000 won ($270), or you may have to incur the wrath of the dumpster supervisor at your apartment building.

After ignoring this custom and just dealing with the latter of the two punishments for a couple of months, I decided to start buying the correct garbage bags. The first time, I was successful at purchasing them from my local convenience store. I asked for the smallest ones (10L) and they fit perfectly. The second time I asked for the bags and then put up my fingers to signal "10" as in "10 liters" and the woman nodded happily. Unfortunately, in Korea the numbers are a little different (something about Chinese characters, I dunno, but I've noticed my students struggle with expressing numbers in English). Anyways, she gave me the bags all folded up and I paid. It cost about $15 for 5 trash bags, which was more expensive than the previous time and seemed a little fishy but I wasn't exactly in a place to argue. I took them home, opened them up, and lo and behold they were 100 liter bags! In case you're wondering how big that is, I was able to step inside it and could probably have a seat in there.

After a month of using as much trash as possible (thanks, in part, to being sick and using thousands of tissues), I am down to my last 100 liter bag. And now that I have only one body-sized garbage bag left, I'm considering who to kill....

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Let Sleeping Lions Lie

Still recovering from my recent stint with "bronchitis," I had a fairly easygoing weekend. On Saturday, the J-man and I went to the zoo. Unfortunately, we woke up at 3 so by the time we got there it was already 5:30, and they kicked us out at 6:30. Also, by that time most of the animals had already gone back inside their enclosures and were fast asleep. So we resolved to return again at a later weekend. But from what we did see, the Seoul Zoo, located about 3 subway stops away from Pyeongchon (at Seoul Grand Park), was awesome.

Here's an awkward picture of me, squinting into the sun as it sets.
There was also this giant tiger, in honor of the year of the tiger, at the entrance. Someone got a picture on its paw so when that picture is uploaded I will steal it and put it up here.

Here are some of the animals we were able to see:

Since many of the animals were in their enclosures, it was hard to photograph them because of the thickness and opacity of the glass. However, I had to snap the lions because they were fast asleep and looked adorable. For some reason we could only see male lions (we assumed they separated the males and females, what with it being mating season and all).

This guy was twitching. He was probably dreaming about chasing a zebra.

The area all around the zoo was pretty and with the sun setting around us, I couldn't resist taking some of these pictures:

There's also an amusement park called Seoul Land nearby so perhaps there shall be a later all-day visit to this "Grand Park."

Not wanting to waste the lovely weather of last weekend, we spent Sunday searching for a supposed river not far from my apartment building. I had heard about this potential river from my friend, La Toya, so I checked on a map and sure enough there it was. 
It's nice to know this place exists in Pyeongchon. One thing that is a little bit stifling about Seoul and its surroundings is the lack of nature. There is a park, dubbed Central Park, which I pass through on my way to work, but it's mainly concrete. This river will be a nice getaway or place to run when I'm feeling overwhelmed by the city.

Wow, I went that long without talking about food. So here it is: we tried out a Thai place called Buddha's Belly located in Itaewon. It was awesome. Spicy, but awesome. Then, as we were walking back to the subway, we saw this cute cafe called Bella's Homestay. It was filled with random American nostalgia items like Cambell's soup and maps of the US. I ordered a hot chocolate with marshmallows and we split Bella's homemade chocolate cake.

The menu looked like a scrapbook.

It was a nice little diversion and another excuse to consume chocolate.

We also saw Clash of the Titans on Sunday but that was decidedly meh.

Week 6 is upon us, which means we are halfway through the term. And pay day is this Friday! Whoopee!