Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Record Post

If only I had the necessary ambition and creativity to write about something right now.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Naked in Kyong-Ju

I*d be on the balcony in my boxer shorts writing this, if I could only see my screen in the glaring sunshine! It rained for the first time in forever yesterday and today it*s back to blue skies. Last weekend the weather was equally brilliant, and I actually got out of town to take advantage of it.

My room mate Jason, his girlfriend Joy and I took off for Kyong~Ju, **The Museum Without Walls**. From what Jason explained to me, the city used to be the Capital of Korea. It was once a great Buddhist kingdom full of extravagant temples that were later destroyed during the Japanese rule in Korea. The first day we set out to marvel a some of the tombs and temples around the city.

The three of us took the bus from Gumi in the early after noon and arrived in Kyong~Ju a few hours later. We went to the biggest temple site and joined thousands of locals who had decided to do the same. I wonder how many other peoples photos I am in, there was never a moment where someone*s camera wasn*t going off. Now I feel bad for saying this, but temples and tombs really start to bore me after I have taken in one or two. It*s not that Korea*s relics are low quality, I got sick wandering the temples of Anchor Wat, a world wonder, after half a day. Eventually, I just rode around them on my dirt~bike, which is now my favorite way to tour historic sites ~ drive in, drive out! After the first few temples here, the rest of the day was just about wandering, having fun and enjoying good company.

After temple~ing we invited a american we had met back to town for some Sam~Gup~Sa and bowling! Three games cost a meager $2.30, she rental included. And we*re not talking a scungy mini, six pin bowling, this place was classy and regulation. I*m not much of a bowler, and I sucked as usual, but Joy, a stick thin Korean girl who had only bowled once in her life, was cleaning up. The running joke earlier that day was how we envisioned the bowling ball thumping down the lane with Joy*s slender hand and wrist still attached. Luckily, it never happened.

After bowling we said by to our new friend and headed for the nearest Jin~Jil~Bong, a Korean bath house... and this is where the story gets interesting. I*ve never stepped foot in a bath house, let alone a Korean bath house, so I had absolutely no Idea what to expect besides having to be but~naked with a lot of Korean men and my room mate. I*m fine with nudity and even public nudity as long as I still got my boxers on. Going through with this Jin~Jil~Bong experience would take as much courage as took to eat the silk worms I tasted at the temple that day and the raw oysters, eel and fish I ate last night. Bungee jumping from 200 feet (60.96m) meters in Quebec, riding a dirt bike down main street in Cambodia during rush hour and caving for 4 hours in Laos with motorbike helmet and a mini flashlight I received with my hair gel purchase, are all pale in comparison.

When you arrive you are given brown shorts, a brown shirt and a key. After depositing my shoes in the foot locker and chugging the last of my beer Jason and I headed for the mens* bath. Three floors up we entered the cleanest locker room I have ever seen. The room was twice the size of most big swimming pool locker rooms. There was a receptionist near the entrance selling tooth brushes, soap and other hygiene products. In the center of the room there was a 56 inch flat screen television and five or six Koreans chilling out on a large couch watching the Korean drama unfold. Beside the couch was a low wooden table like thing with eight dozen eggs and four koreans sitting on it. All of these guys had their brown UPS looking uniforms on, that would have been a little weird had they all been naked on the couch.

Lovely wooden lockers lined the wall adjacent from the entrance and off to the side, near the entrance to the baths, there was a large corridor with long mirrors on both walls, counters, sinks and all sorts of free body lotions, soaps etc. And then there were the naked, slightly nervous Korean men and boys... everywhere. I was equally nervous, and I still had my cloths on. I found my locker, right beside Jason*s, stripped and headed for the steamy glass doors.

Beyond those doors was a different world. The room opened up into a huge marble, tile and stone bathhouse with 6 different baths, a eucalyptus steam room, sauna, showers and banks of sinks, mirrors and plastic buckets. Tons of Koreans were sitting in these seats exfoliating and helping to scrub each~others backs. Jason and I had to shower first and then we hit the first tub. It was one of the hottest tubs, shared by four or five others. Making small talk with older Korean men on the streets can be difficult in and of itself, I don*t think I exchanged a single with any Korean during the hour I was there.

There was one pool that had this large red button on the wall. Of course, my curiosity drove me to push it and upon doing so four pressurized jets of water erupted from the wall and ceiling. I enjoyed three cycles of this pressure cleaning and then joined Jason in the Arctic pool. It was the kind of cold that made you fight for breath at first, but after acclimatizing it felt great. The pool also had a chin up bar hanging from the celling, I pulled of 15, 11 more than my record! It helped that half my body weight being displaced by water. Finally, I headed for the steam room, sucked back the eucalyptus and let my feet get massaged by the bubbly cold water in the troff below.

After putting on our uniforms we met up with joy on the sleeping floor. Just like in the changing room, the marble floors were radiating with heat. Korean families were scattered everywhere in the vast open room. There were no furnishings, everyone just found a spot on the floor. The are also had a small restaurant and a internet and video game room where all the Korean boys and girls could be found. Besides the main room there were eight or so fair sized sauna rooms with people relaxing and sleeping in them. Each one had a kind of theme. I stayed in one that had quartz crystal and other mineral~y stones carpeting the ceiling and walls. The floor was kind of bumpy and metallic. Than the was a wooden room and a red room and a low, low ceiling room etc. Most of these rooms were far too hot for me, or too noisy because kids were stalking and following me, so I went and tried to sleep in the common area.

When you do decide to go to seep you grab a **pillow** which is a large 6X6 chunk of wood and find a spot on the floor. No blankets, no mattress, no privacy. The fact the floor was heated was awesome but the marble didn*t have much give, nor did my wooden pillow. I tossed and turned a lot that night, occasionally waking up, legs intertwined with other peoples. Overall, not my worst sleep, though the skin on my hips was a little bruised. But for the equivalent of $7 a night, I*m not complaining.

The three of us left that morning, rented bicycles and did a 25km circut around the lake. It was probably one of the best days I have had out here. The weather was brilliant, yet again, and the fall colors were at their peak. People were out everywhere, walking, biking, driving pocket bikes and ATVs. Jason and paid $3 to do some traditional archery. We each got 10 arrows and I hit the target once at 50m... it was windy. Tired and hungry after the long bike, we indulged in Sam~Gup~Sa again and then took the bus home.

I faithfully compiled my expenses when I got home, the two days of buses, taxis, hotels, ice cream, bowling, admissions, junk food, meals, archery and rentals cost just under $75. Not bad for the most kick~ass trip I have had since arriving.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Catch All / Catch Up Post

Wow... it*s been a crazy end of October, life has been busy for this teacher. It seems I always think about this Blog when I*m in the shower. It*s been many showers since my last post and I have a whole bunch of random ideas I want to write on however, I*ll try to narrow it down to these select few:

Korean Soap ~ The Bar That Just Keeps on Giving

Hair Loss by the Bushel ~ Genetics, Stress or Pollution

Mom and Dad Don*t Read This! ~ I Caved and Bought a Sport Bike

West~Coasters Don*t Read This! ~ The Most Beautiful Fall Ever, Sunshine, Sunshine, Sunshine

Halloween of Thousand Screams ~ Does South Korea Only Stock One Costume?

(But first: Sad news... the screen on my camera broken.... so no pictures :(

Korean Soap ~ The Bar That Just Keeps on Giving

Korean Soap amazes me. Those who know me may claim I*m easily amazed... and they are right, but Korean soap is truly amazing. I bought a six~pack of cheapest soap I could find here on arrival; it was in a dusty corner of an old basement market. Six, rather large, rectangle bars were wrapped in cellophane with green Korean writing. There*s nothing fancy about it, there is little or no aroma, no markings on the face, and a total lack of ergonomic design. The bar is actually a bitch to keep hold of the first few showers. But here*s the thing.. the bar lasts decades! I*m still on my first bar! And yes, I do shower frequently, sometimes twice a day, nor am I stingy with my soap, I really lather up.

I seem to remember reading somewhere that Ivory soap was among the first variety to float. The trade secret at the time was to mix a little something called air into it. Apparently consumers liked the novelty of not having to dive for their soap and I*m assuming the company didn*t have any issues with selling air to consumers. This is why I think soap back home is gone so quickly, usually in week in my case, they puff it up with air! At this rate I*ll only get through four of my six bars before my contract expires.
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Hair Loss by the Bushel ~ Genetics, Stress or Pollution

(Dramatization using picture of unrelated man... I'm not as bad as this poor sucker... yet)

While the scene is still set in the shower, here*s something that has me really concerned. About two weeks ago, I noticed a plethora of hairs carpeting the sides and bottom of our bathtub. Still in awe about how long my soap was lasting, I initially dismissed them as belonging to my semi~balding roommate. It was actually a little pissed that he would leave that much hair all over the tub. While towel drying my hair I kept getting pieces of it in my mouth. Then I ran my wet hands through my hair only to find six or seven hairs stuck on them. I repeated this process until my hands came out clean and then shook my head over the sink only to see more hairs fall out!

Worried, I ran to my computer and Googled **Rapid Hair Loss**. The genetics in my family should be pretty solid, both my mom and dad*s side had damn good~looking hair for their age. My self~diagnosis is either Telogen Effluvium, meaning my hairs are lazy and have entered a temporary resting phase or Trichotillomania, I am actually causing my own hair loss because I am pulling on my hair all the time to see if it is falling out.

I am hoping I have one of the disorders above, as the chances of a full recovery are almost certain. What*s scary is the fact I have talked with three of four teachers who have claimed to suffer from the same problem. One blamed his thinning hair on the pollution but the others shifted the blame to the kids... really, there is no doubt in my mind the kids are culpable.

If you*re a foreigner living in Korea, I*d be really interested to know the status of your hair since arriving. Just post a comment indicating weather your hair has gotten worse, better or stayed the same.
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Mom and Dad Don*t Read This! ~ I Caved and Bought a Sport Bike

I couldn*t take it any longer; there was a deep void in my life here. The adventure, independence, and rush quenched by my 2005 400cc Suzuki DRZ Dual Sport bike back home was going unsatisfied here; living in a country with some of the cheapest new and used motorbikes is the world, this unquenched thirst was unacceptable. So, after only three months I caved and bought a used 2003 250cc Hyosung Comet. (Unfortunately, this is considered a **big bike** in Korea. Larger bikes are harder to come by and quite a bit more expensive.)

I won*t get into great detail about riding in Korea as the content my not be suitable for all viewing audiences. Let me just say everyday is an adventure when you ride in this country. While road rules are fairly lax for all motorists here, it*s lawless for anyone on two wheels. Ride on the sidewalk, run the stoplight, take the opposite side of the street, it really doesn*t matter. Of course, I*m not suggesting I do any of these things...

So far I haven*t had that much opportunity to ride. As soon as I go on a weekend excursion I*ll be sure to post a little review incase anyone reading this is asking all the same questions I was when looking into a bike in Korea.
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West~Coasters Don*t Read This! ~ The Most Beautiful Fall Ever, Sunshine, Sunshine, Sunshine

On my Mac*s Dashboard there is a weather update **widget* for both Abbotsford and Gum. It seems every time I look, Abbotsford has 7 days of rain while Gumi is forecast with 7 days of sunshine. I can*t even remember the last day it rained here and if it*s not raining then the weather here doesn*t see any point in being cloudy.

Gumi South Korea has the most beautiful fall weather I can ever remember experiencing. Born in Nanaimo, BC, having spent significant portions of my life in Bella Coola, Armstrong, Victoria, Aarau Switzerland and most recently Abbotsford BC, I can claim with some degree of authority that the weather here is far superior to that of BC and northern Switzerland.

The other day I was wandering my usual path to school and I had to keep stopping to take it all it. It was that gorgeous, diffused, mid after noon light, in part reflected by the brilliant yellow and red leaves scattered in the streets. Everyone was wearing a grin on their face; kids and families were soaking up the sheer perfection of the day. While traffic and people hummed along the streets playful screams and shouts from children carried through the soft yet crisp air. Street vendors set their fruit out, mandarin oranges being the most abundantly displayed as they are now in season. For three dollars I received a black plastic bag filled with twenty or so oranges from the same old man who sold me the fig tree for my classroom two weeks earlier. I see him every day on the way to school, often he passes me an orange along the way and this day he made sure to top my bag up with some extras.

I will never forget this afternoon, with absolute certainty it will involuntarily consume me for split second sometime, somewhere in my life, over and over again, like so many other experiences I have savored.
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Halloween of a Thousand Screams ~ Does South Korea Only Stock One Costume?

Happy Halloween! Our Hogwan, like almost every other Hogwan, decided to throw together a Halloween party for the kids. Of course, we couldn*t simply have fun, there had to be some element of English involved in the whole production. The plan was the kids would exchange the coupons we give them for good marks, for little slips of paper representing dollars and cents. After the costume parade, they could use their currency to buy the stationary type supplies I had hauled on my back from Costco many miles away; they could also purchase food. It was my job to do up a menu for the event. I made Gim~Bop into **Fresh Maggot Rolls**, Dapoki into **Worm and Slug Stew**, Mandu into **Giant Spider Eggs** and Tuna Sandwiches into **Zombie Brain Sandwiches** and then found lots of gross pictures to go on the menu.

It*s late and I have already wrote too much tonight, so I will get right to the point. I have never seen such a lack of originality in Halloween costumes. I understand the whole idea is foreign, and thus unclear, but does everyone really have to buy a white Scream mask. There was even one boy who went through the effort of crafting his own out of cardboard! Now that I think about it, there wasn*t a single girl sporting a Scream mask, it was only the boys. In one class all of my boys ended up wearing the same costume! When all the classes gathered in the foyer it looked like a damn Scream convention. At least the boys who went for the more expensive version of the mask, the one where you can make fake blood trickle down the front, stood out from the crowed because they had red hands and faces from all the mishaps they had with the shotty pump mechanism.

I ended up dressing up as Gim Bop, the Korean food staple over here, like a big Sushi roll for any of those who don*t know. What started in my head as a fleeting idea during a teacher meeting became reality. The sheer simplicity of the costume is partly what drew me to it. I bought some black, mesh tarp, cut some armholes and wrapped it around me. At this point I just looked like a guy wearing a tarp. I found an old cardboard box and ripped it into two trips. Then made a circle of cardboard just big enough to rest on my shoulders and attached the tarp to the outside wall using Zap~Straps. With the puffed out ring around my neck I Now had that classic Gib~Bop look. Finally, using water colors, I painted half my face orange to represent carrot and the other half yellow for egg or that pickled yellow beat they throw in there. The whole thing went off really well. The funniest part was riding to the bar on my bike while wearing the costume, motorists were either perplexed or in hysterics.

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