Friday, August 22, 2008

A Quiet Long Weekend

Last weekend we had Friday off (mercifully since work has been more hectic than usual this month). Originally we had planned to go on a trip with Dana, Curtis, Eddie and Gisela but things weren't going to work out. It was okay though since we had a lot of fun hanging out in Bundang. On Friday Dana and Curtis went to a big concert in Seoul but they left us the keys to their place so we got our fill of playing Wii and computer games. Yes, we are a little pathetic but it was so fun! Death Cab for Cutie were playing at the concert so I asked Dana to pick me up a shirt and she did. It's currently my favorite. The rest of the weekend consisted of watching episodes of the Office, eating yummy food and playing lots of games. We also slipped in a session of norae (of course!). One of the most exciting parts was stopping at a store that sells Western goods and scoring these rare and exotic items.

I am most excited about the Miracle Whip. There are not many things that I miss from home but Miracle Whip is one of them and we were fresh out of the supplies we'd brought from Canada. This is a pretty huge container so it should last us until we leave. Yay! We also picked up some mini Reese Peanut Butter cups (not pictured because we devoured them too quickly). If anyone is wanting to send a care package we are almost out of Golden Italian salad dressing, Dentene Ice Gum (the green package is the only kind I like though), taco seasoning packages and, of course, Reese Peanut Butter cups. Really I have to say I miss decent chocolate in general since they don't sell anything made by Cadbury here. Oh well, the price you pay for living in another country I suppose.

Margot Teacher's Goodbye Party

A couple weekends ago we had a big goodbye party for Margot Teacher. She's already back in the US and she will be missed by many over here. Her friend Joia planned a great night and there was a good turnout. The evening started out at the Hard Rock Cafe, chosen mainly for it's user friendly menu (there were people with extreme allergies in our group) and ability to accommodate a large group. Once everyone showed up it was really excellent, although probably it was the company rather than the food or service. The food was okay but really overpriced (as you probably know) and the staff didn't really have their act together. We contemplated renting the Hard Rock's norae bang room but then they told us that it was $30/hour PLUS you had to buy a $280 bottle of whiskey. Uhhh, no thanks.

So we escaped from the Hard Rock (who had a terrible band playing live that night) and headed over to the Hongdae area. We ended up at one of the Ho bars (there are at least 5) and in a moment of crazy we decided to order two bottles of tequila (we were being budget savvy I guess). Usually when I'm out I am really well behaved, however, this time we were the loud, obnoxious foreigners. We didn't get kicked out (or even reprimanded) but we did have an ice fight or two. You know what they say, no one wins in an ice fight. ^^

Next stop was norae bang (after stocking up on secret beverages). It was a long walk but well worth it since we went to one of the Luxury norae bangs. This one was lovely and included free ice cream! Yum! Just what a group of drunk foreigners needs. We got busted for having outside beverages but they let us keep the soju and just took the bottles (luckily we'd grabbed cups from the GS Mart) which I thought was a little strange but I didn't complain about. Sadly our time was up all too quickly. Since it was already a ridiculous time in the morning we decided to carry on with the festivities.

We found a club and started dancing the night away. The cover charge we paid apparently gained us entry to three different clubs so when the first one started getting a bit old we carried on to the next. That was where we ended the night. It was a long one and a late one but a really amazing time and the perfect way to send off Margot. And on the plus side, after the teary goodbyes we were able to take the subway home for cheap instead of springing for a taxi! Margot Teacher, we miss you already! To see all the crazy pictures you can go here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Making Pottery in Yeoju

A couple weekends ago we hooked up with Eddie and Gisela in Yeoju to make some pottery. Eddie has already blogged about it, in fact, and did a really splendid job. It was a lot of fun and the woman running the place was really kind (she even called us after we left because Matt forgot his book) and we got to see an interesting ceramics museum for free. We ended up buying a really cool vase and a necklace for me. I would recommend doing this if you're in Korea. My only regret is that I chose to make a vase and not a bowl like Eddie, however, I guess I will just have to go back again and make one. ^^ Here are some pictures!

A Korean couple was also making some pottery but they chose to decorate them in a creative way... Covered in Gucci and Prada! Hahaha! Damn, they stole my idea! I thought we did pretty good despite that.

Funny Books

Here are a couple tidbits that we came across recently. The first is from one of Matt's textbooks. Like I've mentioned, I teach younger/lower level students so usually my material is really basic and boring. Matt gets all sorts of gems though. Like this unit on euthanasia. I mean, what else should 13 year old children be learning about in another language? I love the accurate picture too. So many healthy teenage girls are being euthanized these days. It's a crying shame, I tell you. Watch out kids for that giant pink, fluid-filled death needle. And you thought you only had to worry about fans!

The next is from one of my students' new notebooks. What does this mean? There was some Korean text and she said that the words were similar so I am guessing this one is just a bad translation. One thing is for sure, it's about love.

In other news, our school has decided to offer a new class- a Speaking class for the parents. Guess who will be teaching it? Yep, me. Wow, no pressure there. Hopefully it goes all right but they have yet to give me the books or any real instructions. I'm supposed to conduct interviews this week with the interested parents in order to place them in the appropriate level (beginner or intermediate). Things are never dull around here, that's for sure.

China Part Eight

So this is the last installment of our trip to China. I bet you thought I was finished, right? No I just got busy with work and life and lost steam. Pretty much this last entry will be a catch-all for the things that I didn't mention.

Our last night in Beijing we spent with our couch surfing friends, Curtis and Jenny. We went to their place (although it was tough to get in touch with them since we left our hostel and all the payphones required you to have a phone card- they didn't accept change!!) and had a couple drinks before taking a cab to a new part of the city. It was a really awesome place with a lot of bars around a beautiful lake. We enjoyed many beers for 10 yuan each (which is less than $1.50) and stayed out really late. It was the perfect end to a perfect trip. I tried to take a picture of them but my batteries were dead so this is all I have. Hahah. The first is blurry and the second one looks like I took it right before I stabbed them.
Other things that I might not have mentioned that were awesome: Dairy Queen. The flavor selection for Blizzards was limited but when you haven't had one in a long time it doesn't matter. We went to DQ twice and the second time we won a free ice cream cone. Which the worker insisted on giving to us right then and there. So we had a lot of ice cream that day and looked like giant foreign pigs. Oh well.

Also, I really enjoyed this overpass near our hostel. Check out the escalator! I wish they had those in Seoul!

The range of food available was also cool and interesting. The picture on the left is from when we ate hot pot (which was only okay but other meals we had on the trip were amazing). On the right you can see some typical street food that we did not try. Yeah, maybe I'll have scorpions on a stick next time I'm in Beijing. Or not.

Our trip back to Seoul also went smoothly. We picked up a bunch of candy for our friends and students and jumped onto one of the airport buses. Our flight back was uneventful and our luggage arrived with us back in Korea. What an amazing vacation! Here's a little video we made when we were out one night. Matt was really excited which is why he kept interrupting me. Also here's the link to the main page of our Beijing pictures.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

China Part Seven

So our final full day in Beijing we decided to try and scope out the Olympic stadium. Last night was the opening ceremonies and I haven't seen it (since we were working/we don't have TV) but I imagine it was pretty impressive. The entire time we were in Beijing we really noticed all the pains and efforts they were making to prepare for the Olympics. Between only allowing certain cars to drive (if your licence plate ended in an even number you could drive on even numbered days), renovating everything, having volunteers on every corner to help people, new bilingual signs. Well, it was pretty cool and sometimes a little creepy. Like you would go up to talk to someone and you could see the gears moving in their head. "Must smile like a crazy person so that we can show how friendly and helpful Chinese people really are!"

So we took the bus out to the Bird's Nest. It was a really hazy day (worse than the previous day even) so the pictures are a little weird. Of course we couldn't get in to see anything that interesting but we didn't feel too retarded since we weren't the only people hanging out and gawking at the building. We weren't able to figure out where the Water Cube was unfortunately.

Since we toured the Olympic stuff in record time we needed to figure out what to do with the rest of our day. We settled on seeing the Lama Temple because it was close by to where we were. I have to admit I was underwhelmed and wondering why we bothered (since we'd seen so many similar things through the week) until we stumbled upon the coolest thing ever!

Apparently the Lama Temple houses a 26 meter tall Buddha statue. And not just any statue, this statue holds the Guinness Record for being the largest statue carved out of a single piece of sandalwood. It's so massive! I don't have any pictures of it (because you weren't allowed) and even the online ones I found don't do it justice because you can't get the whole thing in one frame and show perspective of it's size. Matt and I stood there for at least 10 minutes with our jaws on the floor looking at it. The statue's baby toe was bigger than my pillow! Worth the admission price just seeing this.

It was interesting to watch the prayer rituals with the incense. There were tons of incense vendors lining the street up to the temple. The incense came in a big pack and you were supposed to offer 3 sticks of it to each Buddha statue. I'm glad we stopped by the Lama Temple after all and you can see the rest of our pictures here.

China Part Six

After calling it an early night and getting some rest we decided to set off for the Summer Palace. We took another local bus (I really recommend being brave and taking these buses, you can't beat a 1 yuan bus fare!) and just when we started to get nervous that we'd gone too far we were there! We had a slightly expensive (which meant the total came to almost $15) lunch of cashew chicken and sweet and sour pork that was so delicious that it was worth the inflated price. I was feeling a bit under the weather (stomach issues- maybe I accidentally drank some local water?) so we took it slow.

It was a bit hazy and smoggy for the last few days of the trip so it was challenging to take nice pictures. I gave it a shot and you can look at all of them here. I want to live in the Summer Palace. It's huge and gorgeous and is probably bigger than the town I grew up in. There was no way that we could have seen the whole thing that day because we didn't go there early enough, I was dragging my butt a bit and it's massive. In fact, we didn't get to see one of the featured sites since those close at 5 pm (the Palace stays open later though). What we did see was amazing so it was okay we didn't see it all.

The Summer Palace has a massive lake in it and you can rent boats/take a dragon boat ride. We decided not to since we were feeling cheap but it looked like a lot of fun. We got to see a lot of museum like areas throughout the palace. Some things we saw were Ming vases (honestly some of the other pottery was more impressive to me) and the first Olympic gold medal. Cool. We also got to watch some traditional dancers and listen to some live traditional Chinese music. If you go to those links you can see the videos I took.

Near the end of the day they let us into one of the sites just as they were closing the gates. Literally we punched our ticket and behind us they bolted everything up. I couldn't understand at first what the big deal was. Then some old guy starts waving at us to come up some stairs. Which led to a few more stairs.
Yeah, try sprinting up those after you spent hours and hours walking in the hot Beijing sun. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. At the top their was another temple and a nice employee who spoke English and explained the significance of the Buddha inside the temple. It was nice but the view was better. It was lucky that we got their when we did because this woman also told us where the bus stop was (we were so far away from where we entered and I really didn't want to backtrack) and suggested a few buses we could take. As mentioned, the view was spectacular!
It was a bit treacherous climbing down from the temple and getting to the exit but we managed without falling to our deaths. We found the bus but unfortunately we got nervous and jumped off a stop too soon and therefore had to walk about a kilometer to the subway station. D'oh!

Friday, August 08, 2008

China Part Five

At this point we had stayed with Curtis and Jenny for four awesome nights and it was time to part ways. We'd imposed on them enough. We made plans to hang out on Friday night (our last night) to say goodbye and to give them our Beijing Lonely Planet since we wouldn't be needing it after that. The night before we all stayed up talking and hanging up until nearly 4 am so we were pretty tired the next day. Jenny actually called in sick for work. Haha. Since we were traveling by the seat of our pants we randomly called a hostel in the area and low and behold they had a private room available for the rest of our stay at the bargain price of $20 (total, not per person) a night. So we packed up and headed over there by cab (14 yuan or $2). Our room was simple but lovely. The bathroom was communal but everything was really clean and well maintained. We even had cable TV (China has even fewer English channels than Korea) and an air conditioner. Actually, we had to change rooms for our last night because our air conditioner crapped out. No big deal though.

Since we stayed up pretty late we decided we wanted a fairly low key day so we decided to take the city bus to the Temple of Heaven. I was so tired on this day and was really dragging my arse around but we took lots of breaks. I'll admit I didn't know much about the Temple of Heaven before I visited it and as it turns out it's in a massive park that you can walk around in forever. It was so gorgeous and peaceful with it's trees and the traditional Chinese music piped through the speakers. Here's a link to all the pictures of the Temple of Heaven.

We spent the whole afternoon touring around and looking at all the different buildings and temples. It was a lot of fun even though I was so tired.

While in the park I noticed a few funny Engrish items. You might have to click on the pictures to read them. I was excited to see that the restaurant in China was selling Chinese food and that I could wash it down with my favorite drink, Hot Choldate.

After we left the Temple of Heaven we relaxed a bit at the hostel and then went out and did some more shopping. I haven't mentioned it in the other installments but we shopped almost everyday of the trip. I must say, shopping in Beijing is awesome! Haggling is actually fun and I think we got some pretty decent deals. I was reluctant to tell Curtis and Jenny what we paid for a couple things (you know, since they live there) but even they said we did good so that was encouraging. The main places we shopped at were Wangfujing Street and Silk Street and Pearl Market. I took a couple pictures of them.

My favorite shopping location was Silk Street/Pearl Market. As you can tell from the picture, it has a lot more than silk and pearls (although you can buy those there too). It was crazy walking through there. I ended up buying a gorgeous Balenciaga knock off. I have no idea about designer stuff so I was probably the worst woman to peddle to (hey! It's a Gucci! Uhhh.. so? It's ugly.). From my research on the subject now that I'm back, mine is a copy of "The First" model. It's a nice bag and I talked the woman down from over 1000 yuan to 130 yuan (which worked out to under $20 for the purse). I may have been able to get my original price of 100 yuan but I liked the woman and I wanted the purse so I cracked a bit. Anyway, we mostly bought presents for other people and almost bought a hacked Wii with a bunch of fake games but then decided against it. I can't wait to return to China for more cheap shopping!