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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Palandum Gate in Snapshots

Palalmun (South) Gate, Suwon

Why visit Palalmun gate? The market is incredible. It's large, populated and offers a wide array of cheap goods including fresh food, clothes and accessories, tapestries, imported African goods, and foreign toiletries (I got St. Ives apricot facial scrub for $5).

From the market, you can see the top of one of the world's largest churches. I plan on visiting it, but the interior has been renovated to appeal to a younger congregation. Flat screen T.V.'s may have modernized the church, but at what cost?

I love these characters. All they need is a chess board.

I suggest you wander off the market's beaten track. Some of the alleyways look like paintings.

After seeing a cultural program on persimmons: a Korean fruit grown on trees, I wanted a taste. When hung to dry, they naturally produce a white-dust coating like that on a donut. This woman let me take her photograph, and I noticed she was selling persimmons, so I bought two for 1,000 Won.

I ate one and gave the other to a lady in red. You should have seen her smile when I offered the fruit. She's really enjoying it in the photo!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Suwon Youth Cultural Centre

Korea is the land of side-dishes. For $4USD tonight, I ate this hot, nutritious meal. I loved the chewy rice cakes in my soup- the kind eaten for breakfast on Lunar New Years. I've noticed Koreans serve more food than they expect you to eat. There's cultural emphasis on communal eating, and side dishes facilitate sharing.

My favorite food is Indian. I love spice, but my sinuses are still adapting to foreign cuisine. A runny nose and lips turned red by chili pepper are a matter of course. Blowing your nose at the table is considered very rude in Korean culture. I wipe discreetly!

This evening I took a grand tour of Suwon Youth Cultural Centre:

The building (from left to right): library, pool & gym, basketball court, theatre showing plays and musicals.

You can only borrow 3 books at a time.

This photo doesn't do the pool justice; it's enormous!
I can't wait to dive in this weekend.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Words. You are Where you Are.

Now that Suwon feels like home, I've begun considering what I want out of this year. I planned on taking a class at Ajou University but my schedule is unfixed, and impossible to work around. Besides, I'm now certain of my academic plans for my return to Canada.

I went to the Suwon Community Centre today. The selection of English books is sparse but enough for now. I was impressed by a few, like Micheal Cunningham's The Hours. The small library offers classics, and Hangul learning tools, which I need.

The art-marketing site I'm working on is also (slowly) taking form.

Today little Kevin shoved his notebook in my face. The homework was for another teacher's class, so the words came to me out of context:

He must have thought I was crazy when I photographed the page, but the collection of words excited me. I was reminded of abstract poetry exercises I did in my University Creative Writing classes: "Teeth, chin, tooth, eyes, mouth." The words took on fresh meaning.

In other news, my apartment is starting to look more like home. I picked up this massive, framed poster at New Core for $20:

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bizarre CNN News Article

SEOUL, Korea (Reuters) -- The South Korean government is handing out gifts for office workers who promise not to visit brothels this holiday season. Read more here.

Everland Amusement Park

Visiting Everland Resort? Prepare to be POOPED!

When I asked my students what they did for Christmas, responses varied, but not one said Santa Claus came, not one had dinner with extended family or received a gift, not one proved Christmas is more than a day off school and work, in Korea.

Chung wanted to make it special for me anyway, so he suggested a trip to Everland. He also gave me a letter and a pair of leather gloves (in the above photo). I asked him how he chose the perfect gift and he admitted he originally bought a singing Santa Claus and when his Mom saw it, she said, "Eva doesn't need THAT!" She suggested gloves. Smart woman.

I could barely hold my head up when I got home last night. At noon, Chung and I took BUS 6000: a direct bus to the amusement park, and we didn't get back to Suwon until 10:20 PM. It was a long day on our feet!

I've been to Euro Disney in France, Canada's Wonderland, Disneyland etc. but this park was more like a (beautiful) travelling fair, surrounded by mountains. I thought it was slightly overpriced, but the perfet place to go on a date. See ticket & rate info here. You get a $2.00 discount for what? ... Being a foreigner! Print out your coupon here!

The highlight, in my opinion, was the SAFARI ride:
We took the safari bus at night, which added to the excitement. For the first time ever, I saw elephants, giraffes, lions and tigers (oh my!) The animals were in a natural habitat, apart from glaring spotlights and tour buses driving through every 2 minutes. Our driver tossed the bears treats so they'd stand on their hind legs.

I also liked what Chung called, "Korean Skiing"- tubes flying down an icy mountain slope. Our feet got wet but it was worth it. The rides were fun, and I braved the loop-de-loop roller coasters, but none of them gave me a stomach in throat sensation. Fireworks? beautiful.

North American parades conclude with a Santa Claus float. Not this one! Santa came half way through, and wasn't much of a crowd-pleaser. All of the elves were young Russian men and women with imitation Goldilocks hair. The Korean's camera phones were aimed at the foreign elves, not the floats!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, EVERYBODY!
Today my friend Chung Lim Jang and I are going to one of Korea's big amusement parks: EVERLAND.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

My Saturday: Forest to Nightlife

Although Suwon is industrial, you can find some beautiful havens. I'm lucky to have this park nearby to my house. The photos aren't bad for a first time photographer, right?


My Korean friend Min, who I originally met in Montreal, jumped on a bus with a friend and came to Suwon last night. We went for dinner, to a Kareoke club and a bar:


Koreans never order beer without food, be it dried fish or peaches and cherry tomatoes in ice.

What's a Korean night out without Kareoke?

Traditional Korean Market in Suwon

"Not all who wander are lost." - J.R.R. Tolkien.

Yesterday was mild and sunny; it was the perfect condition to wander and snap photographs. I love the traditional market about 12 minutes South West of Ajou University:


Scooters, like the one you see in the photo, are very popular in Korea and there's no law against driving on the sidewalk. Their motors are relatively quiet, or drowned by noise pollution, so I always jump when one skids past.

As I've mentioned, fruit is much cheaper at markets than at Korea's version of Wal-mart: Home Plus, where you could be charged $10 for a hand full of grapes!

Dried fish

Baby Octopus

This fish is like something out of a horror movie! It won't be on my dinner plate tonight.

The most popular Korean desert. Rice cakes are semi-sweet and very chewy, with bean paste in the center.

Friday, December 22, 2006

'B' for 'Book'

Fun activities aside, we do have to get through the course book. This little girl makes anything bearable!

Japanese food and Sun

Japanese Restaurant near Ajou University

Fish Cutlet Spread
5,500 WON/ 5.50 USD

* There are quite a few Japanese restaurants in Korea.

The rice was topped with fish eggs and dried seaweed. Before sticking chop sticks into my tofu noodle soup, I dumped in side dishes of fresh seaweed and kimchi. Each bite of fish was paired with a snick of cabbage in red sauce. Delish!

I went for a walk after lunch. It was a spring-like day. As I walked up the street towards Ajou University, I heard live Korean music get closer. I climbed a wooden walkway. At the top were dancers in traditional garb. The women wore vibrant pinks, blues and yellows. The stage was in the round.

As I stood watching, I felt a tug at my pantleg. I looked down and saw my student, Annie! "Teacher, teacher!" she said, smiling. She hugged my leg. I was so surprised that I almost didn't recognize her. I loved getting a warm greeting out of the blue, like that. Suwon felt more like home.

Tomorrow evening, Min and Young are visiting from Seoul. We'll be going out and I'll be sure to take a few photos. I'll also comment on "Christmas in Korea."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Privacy, or lack there of.

As a private person, living in Korea has tested my boundaries. In a public restroom, today, a woman set her purse on the sink, entered a stall without closing the door, and started to pee. She trusted I wouldn't steal her purse, or let the view bother me.

Things like this help me better understand my old roommate, Hwan: a Korean living in Montreal, who stuck his bare feet into my slippers, slept in the same bed as his male friends, and always ate communally.

When I first met Chung, he promised, "I won't touch your privacy." He learned through the world wide web that Canadian girls pride Independence and privacy. He wanted me to know that he wouldn't be an intrusive friend.

Everybody seems to know every body's business here, even though I live in a city of over a million. My tap was dripping a while back and I had to ask my landlady to fix it. Not knowing which apartment she lived in, I began randomly knocking with a Hangul translation of "landlord?" in hand. A girl in her early 20's answered and took me upstairs to the old woman's apartment.

Now, the landlady is very talkative. She carries on long, in-depth conversations in Hangul. She touches me and gestures flamboyantly, expecting me to get the gist of it, but I never do. I'm glad to have experienced this because I constantly expect Koreans to read my mind! I speak slowly, loudly, expressively to people who know no English. They probably smile and nod just to shut me up!

At work, one of my coworkers approached me and said, "I heard about the trouble with your tap. ha ha ha." It turns out he's friends with the girl who ushered me to the landlady!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

For Family and Friends (My Apartment)

I found that 7ft. tall bookshelf on the side of the road.

"Korean bathroom floors are always wet. There's a drainage hole in centre of the floor, where water drains down to the sewage.The advantage is you never have to clean the bathroom. You just take the shower hose, and spray everything down. One minute later, voila, shiny and clean." - (thank you Anonymous) / F.Y.I: I discuss this in my post Arrived in Korea Last Night.




Why does anyone NOT have heated floors?


Dryers are non-existent in Korea.

Street food for dinner


I was waiting to cross the street, after work, when I got ambushed by teenagers selling sweet potatoes from a stove- a bag of 6 of them for 3 USD. I was reluctant, but the kids' enthusiasm, and the sample- hot and "sugar taste," as they put it, won me over. The potatoes were more moist than the ones I had with Chung Lim Jang outside the amusement park.

I took the long route home, passed a bakery and found myself at a street stand, inquiring about chunks in orange sauce, which I always surmised were pork or some other meat I wasn't interested in trying. The woman selling them laughed and said, "rice, rice! You from Russia?" I bought 1USD worth of rice cakes.

Everyone asks if I'm from Russia. The windy country is close by, so Russians with money often visit Korea. There are Russian prostitutes who work in Korea, so it could be an insult- I think I was well covered in my parka and mitts! ; )

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Class Pets

KEVIN


ANNIE

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunday with Chung

He met me outside my apartment at 2:00. There were 6 inches of bright, wet snow on the ground. Everything looked fresh and pretty. Water dripped off rooftops.

"The baseball game is cancelled, right?" I asked him, zipping keys in my purse. No, no! Still on. Really? I pictured the players sliding through the field in their sneakers. As I was buying a yogurt at the convenient store, Chung's phone rang. The guys were wet and tired. No more baseball, but the buffet was still on.

Chung asked if I still wanted to do something. "Yea," I said. Karaoke? Why not. We walked to a noraebang club- closed. Movie? Sure. We took a taxi to a movie theatre near Woncheon amusement park. Closed! We asked the driver to take us to another theatre, between New Core and Galleria. The Holiday and Just friends (the only English movies showing) didn't start until 5:30. Well we had to be at the buffet by then so we settled on a karaoke club in the complex.

Noraebang is a whole other story when you're a party of 2. I was more shy than I was in a crowd! Chung sang his songs "to" me and most of them were hardcore 1990's rock music which he sang at the top of his lungs. He was a great singer but my head pulsed! His cigarette didn't help. Koreans are so comfortable with a microphone in their hand. Chung said he and his friends sang at a karaoke club, nightly, after school. He asked me about my Canadian friends' voices- high or low, powerful or weak? He was surprised that I haven't heard them sing!

The buffet was a lot of fun. We took yet another taxi to a wedding hall. While we were sitting in the lobby, waiting for the players to show, he expressed how excited the players were to meet me. I was supposed to watch one of their games last weekend but couldn't make it. Attendance is normally low but everyone showed up to meet 'the foreigner.' When Chung arrived at the field without me, they told him to "go home!"

The food was incredible. There was Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian food- you name it! I ate an exorbitant amount, took shots of soju and saved room for the desert spread with everything from rice cakes to gourmet chocolate ice cream. I had so much fun meeting the players. We continued our conversations when we moved the party to a nearby bar.

They asked me questions. One of them was, "what's your favorite Korean dish?" I described raw white fish rolled in lettuce and dipped in horseradish sauce, along with kimchi pancakes and sweet rice wine on a rainy day. They were impressed I knew about the "rainy day pancake" tradition.

Everyone seemed desperate to get together and practice English, in the near future. When
I left, they wrote down their e-mails (with a little blurb so I'd remember who they were.) The e-mail addresses on my notepad say: "Nice guy," "Muscle Amazon guy," "Shy guy," "Min-Gyu," and "smart guy!" They're all single and not happy about it. As I emphasized, Christmas is not a family-focused holiday in Korea; it's couple-focused. Single friends get together and eat/drink. Those in relationships do romantic things. They asked me what I was doing for Christmas. I have nothing planned so they suggested Chung and I join them. We'll see.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

My Day in Snapshots

Min & Young at the Restaurant

My Korean friends haggled a fantastic price on my new toy: a Canon. Seoul's South gate- Namdaemoon is the place to go if you're on the market for a camera; camera stores lit up the streets like christmas bulbs. Price shop and know what you want.

I celebrated by snapping my very first photo.

... And my second-> South Gate.

After sight-seeing and dinner, which consisted of whole, rice-stuffed chickens in broth, and good conversation, we went our separate ways. Min only returned from Montreal 3 days ago so he was tired. My other friend had swing dancing practice for a University concert! He saw me off at the subway where I traveled alone to Itaewon: "Western Town."

I was hoping to find products like a good cleanser. Itaewon was disappointing. I arrived after dark and was admittedly a bit scared. The streets were dirty and teeming with American soldiers, blacks and Hispanics. I got an ice cream cone at McDonald's and was repulsed by the foreigners' attitudes, as a whole. I didn't hear one "comasamnida" (thank-you.)

I asked a Caucasian where to go for shampoo and she gave me vague directions about a 'hole in the wall, black-market' where you can find everything from back home. After walking for 20 minutes and finding nothing on the shadowed street, I journeyed back to the subway. I didn't take a single photo so I must have been uneasy!

My arrival back at SUWON Station, one hour later:

Look how beautiful Aekyung Department store is! I love my city.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Filial Duty

In the teacher's lounge, one of my Korean coworkers confided that today was his last. He didn't look happy. I asked why he was leaving.

His father is ill and in hospital. He said it's his obligation to quit work, even though he recently started at the school and needs money. His apartment is packed in boxes. Tomorrow he moves into his parents' home, two hours south of Suwon and three hours south of his fiancee in Seoul; he's making quite the sacrifice.

I think it's despicable how popular retirement homes are, in North America. Conditions are often poor. At the same time, would I spoon-feed my father for a year, sacrificing my own relationship and getting poorer and poorer not working? It's hard to say.

I told the teacher his decision is respectable and brave. His heart seemed so heavy. He's in his early 30's and anxious to start his own family. Another Korean told me the younger generation doesn't feel the same obligation. I asked her how she felt. Because her parents funded her education, she believes it's her duty to support them in their older years.

Her perception is that American/Canadian parents never pay for their children's education- that kids are independent out of high school and that's why they don't feel a similar duty. But there has long been Eastern emphasis on filial duty/ moral obligation for ones' elders.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Army Attire & Kimchi Jjigae for 3,5000 Won.


At 10:00 tonight, I opened the door to let my students free. Surprise! There was Chung Lim Jang, hands clasped, standing in his marine attire including an army cap. It was quite the outfit: camouflage colors covered in badges like a skull and crossbones which, Chung later informed me, signifies his readiness to combat North Korea.

Former soldiers met earlier in Suwon, for a drink of camaraderie. I wasn't altogether surprised he 'appeared' because he knows I finish work at 10 PM Mon-Fri and I said he was welcome to check out my classroom, sometime.

I got quite the look from the secretary as I was leaving. "He's my friend!" I assured her! She winked. This "oohhhh, he's a boy and you're a girl thing" is getting really annoying.

We went for food because that's what we always do. I asked him to go with me to the place I was fed a "hot meal on the house" when I was broke. I usually get The Special, there, so Chung offered to translate the menu. I ordered "Kimchi Jjigae" for 3,500 won. It was a bubbling cauldron of kimchi with onions, beef, chili powder, tofu and rice noodles. It came with sticky rice.

Mmm, delicious! It tasted just like what Hwan made in Montreal! I find some Korean meals, like Bibimbap: rice blanketed in cooked egg, vegetables and red chili paste, is too much by the last bite. The chili paste and egg is heavy. But I almost licked the soup bowl, I loved my Kimchi Jigae so much. It sat well.

I told Chung to thank the waitress for feeding me, that day; that she's lovely. Then she told him she thinks I'm strong (what's with all the strong comments??), always smiling and friendly, and that she and the other waitress think I'm a doll. Awwww, Chung translated once we had left the restaurant, but I would have kissed her had we still been there!! hahaha.

Tomorrow is payday and I look forward to buying a CAMERA in Seoul on Saturday. One of Hwan's friends who I met in Canada has returned to Korea and he's going to escort me to the camera shop so I don't get wool pulled over my eyes (or whatever the expression is). We'll most likely walk and shop and reminisce about good old Montreal.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Another Korean E-mail, back by popular request ; )

Friendship and community are of utmost importance to Koreans. They cling to ties: "We share a similar family name," or, "we used to play on a baseball team together." (Anything!) A Korean walking down the street, arm in arm with friends, is considered happy and prosperous.

"What's individuality?" My students had difficulty with the 'Personality Types and Emotions' chapter. Once they understood the vocabulary, I asked them to describe the character of their classmates. Utter silence! I thought they'd at least be able to discuss behavior.

So far, Chung Lim Jang is the best Korean friend I've made. He has given Koreans a good name; he's kind, loyal, generous and happy to lend a helping hand or introduce me to a new food/custom. In exchange, he gets free English lessons! We talk non-stop.

He quit his job to focus soley on studying English! He returns to University in March- the first of the Korean school year. Until then, English is his purpose. E.S.L. is now considered a job prerequisite in Korea, like French is in Quebec and Ottawa: our nation's capital.

Saturday I'm traveling to Seoul to buy a camera, and Sunday I've been invited to Chung's end-of-season baseball party with a grand Korean buffet. mmmmm. Maybe we'll visit the Traditional Korean Folk Village beforehand, and I can put my Canon to use.



From:
"ºê·ç½º" Add to Address BookAdd to Address Book
To:eva_in_wonderland@yahoo.ca
Subject: When you can Free ? :)
Date: Wed, 13 Dec 2006 02:18:58 +0900 (KST)

Hello Very strong teacher -_-¤»¤»¤»¤»¤»

When you early end school ? I want Sunday before go out with you .

Talk about Camera and something ....

Now me get down to English Study .. yesterday . me done English exam ( by Website )

Me write 56% right but listen 82% right .. that time i come to one's memory you ... thank you Eva..

The thing with you to be meeting i auto Friendly English and life study ... you very strong women ....

I again say you. The thing with you to meet Very lucky my life .......

I want you teach Food menu you always go (kim - bab - chun - guk) or another Food store (Reason : if you want

different Food ) Also .. i want to give food price :)

( Although i am the student I gathered the money a little bit as worked. Also i many work ( 2004 / 4~9 ~ ) , ( 2006/9~11)

From now on . i effort (you think me a very good friend ) ... really :)

Take rest and Good luck ^^
- write by your korean friend ccl-

Monday, December 11, 2006

Dunkin Donuts in Korea

Korea does American its own way.

The day I met Camille in Seoul, we discussed our culture shock, or lack there of. I said I wasn't surprised how quickly I adapted, given how developed Korea is.

But she had an interesting comeback. She said nothing is ever actually the same as it is in Canada. Many fast food restaurants offer burgers sandwiched between two "buns" of moulded, sticky rice.

Dunkin Donuts is the only place I can get a decent cup of coffee for under 2USD. Koreans like their coffee chilled, and usually from a can. When asked, "cold with sugar?" I corrected the server: "you mean cream and sugar?" No... cold. Heard her the first time.

Hot or cold, expect a straw.

Green tea donuts? Red bean Bismark? Rice cake? Dunkin Donuts has it, hot from the oven.