Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Steve and Sue's Visit, Part II

Happy New Year, everyone!  I guess this will be my last blog post for 2008.  If 2009 is anything near as interesting, there should be lots of posts to come.  For now, I want to finish updating about Steve and Sue's visit, which is now two weeks ago!

On Tuesday, Keegan had to go to work, and Glenda and I had planned a Christmas party for our students.  We spent most of the morning preparing for the party and the whole afternoon relaxing in Glenda's house on the hill with our multi-national crowd.  

Glenda, Ellen, Alla, Gloria, Joy, Aline, Andrea, and Rafaela at the Christmas party.

Only two of my students were still in Korea at that point.  My Ukrainian student, Elena, made me really proud - she seems to be really coming into her own and was much more willing to speak English in the group.  She's amazing.  My newest Brazilian student was a bit more shy, but considering that she's only had a grand total of eight English lessons, she comported herself well.  She's a natural with pronunciation, and negotiated greetings and introductions with aplomb.  After the party, we went back down to the apartment and started on a stir fry for dinner.  Asian cooking is a staple of our diet, and so easy to do here, where all the markets are Asian.

Wednesday was a fun day.  We went to Jinju to visit Yoon's sister and her family.  I had a really great time practicing my Korean.  This mostly entailed pointing at various objects and naming them, but there were a few more fruitful exchanges.  Yoon's sister let Sue and I try on some of her traditional Korean clothing, and it was such a cool experience.

Ellen, Sue, Yoon's mother, and Yoon's sister in traditional Korean dress.

In the afternoon, we visited a silk factory outlet, where Sue and I bought scarves and Steve bought silk pajamas.  We also went back to the Jinju fortress and enjoyed the winter scenery before returning to Yoon's sister's apartment and having a huge and delicious Korean dinner, complete with both of my favorites:  Korean noodles and seafood pancake.  Mmmm!

On Thursday, Keegan had to work again, so we decided to return to the botanical garden that Keegan and I visited last month.  It was an absolutely stunning clear day, and from the observation deck in the gardens, we could see Japan!  I am itching to visit there for real.  We had just enough time to enjoy some coffee and tea while looking out over the beautiful view of the ocean and the distant, barely visible, mountains of Japan.  

Steve and Sue enjoy coffee and a beautiful view at Oedo Botania.

We also sampled some fish-shaped waffles, filled with red bean paste filling.  They weren't the best I've had, but they were warm, and I enjoyed mine!  In the evening, we whipped up some pasta with vodka sauce.  I think a little more simmering was called for, as the vodka flavor in the finished dish quite strong.  Sorry, guys.  We'll try it again next time you visit!

Friday was the day for a visit to Gohyeon, where Keegan's shipyard is.  We had a chance to visit HomePlus, our favorite superstore, which is chock full of Korean oddities.  As usual, we managed to fill up a cart in no time.  After lunch in the food court, we went over the P.O.W. camp museum and memorial.  Geoje Island was used as a P.O.W. camp during the Korean war, and it was interesting to see old pictures and some information about the camp and its inhabitants.  A lot of the signs had a very, very clear South Korean slant, talking about how wonderful life was for the P.O.W.s and such.  I thought it would have made a great focus for a project in my sociolinguistics class a few years ago, where I had to visit a museum and comment on the narrative that the museum presented - what themes they highlighted and what details they glossed over or spun to fit in with the overall story.  

Tackiest possible exhibit at an old P.O.W. camp?

Anyway, we were a little disappointed with the museum, but we did enjoy the Geoje gift shop nearby, where Steve and Sue found some more souvenirs, and I bought a great silk purse.  We got home fairly early and had time to rest up before dinner out with John and Glenda, followed by a trip to the Lounge, a bar we've visited before, where we played pool and darts and spent some time "singing" karaoke.  

Saturday was our last full day on Geoje Island.  We got a late start and then headed to the nearby memorial of a Korean Naval victory.  We can actually see the monument from our apartment, so I had some idea of what to expect, but there's actually quite a nice park surrounding the memorial as well.  It would be a perfect place for a picnic with a great view when the weather gets warmer again.  There were two Korean toddlers there with their mothers, and we had a great time watching them run around.  We also had a chance to show Steve and Sue the Buddha park that's the destination of my runs these days.  I think they enjoyed the peaceful park and its location in the countryside.

On Sunday, we took a morning ferry to Busan to drop Steve and Sue off at the hotel.  They had a very early flight on Monday morning, so we let them settle in and get organized, and we took the subway back to the ferry terminal area to do some shopping.  It was cold, rainy day (the first of the trip - how's that for luck!), and we had a great time walking around under my umbrella, especially when we discovered the little market stalls tucked back in the streets off of the main shopping drag.  We made it back to the ferry with plenty of time to spare (yes, this is a noteworthy event for us), and arrived home tired but happy with how our first visitors' stay had turned out.  Bring on the masses! 

Monday, December 22, 2008

Steve and Sue's Visit, Part I

I haven't posted for a while because Keegan's parents were here visiting last week, and of course we were spending time with them rather than the usual inordinate amount of time on the Internet.  We did lots of cool things during their visit, and Keegan and I had the opportunity to try out a lot of new activities.  In case anyone is interested, we're more prepared than ever to be excellent hosts for visitors!

Steve and Sue arrived in Busan on Friday the twelfth.  We took the car ferry and drove to the airport to meet them, and then we drove them to the Lotte Hotel where we were staying.  Much to my surprise, they seemed wide awake and eager to spend some time chatting and having a quick glass of wine and a snack at one of the hotel bars.  

Sunset from the car ferry on the way to Busan.

On Saturday we spent the day exploring the area near the Jalgachi Fish Market and the Busan Tower.  The fish market was as slimy and squirmy as I had remembered, but the tower was a new and cool experience.  You get a fantastic view of Busan from the top.  Not that Busan is a particularly beautiful city, but the sheer mass of buildings, streets, traffic, and colorful signs makes it undeniably impressive.  Saturday evening we all went to the ABS Korea Christmas party.  The most amusing part of the evening was of course the karaoke contest.  Keegan and several of his co-workers participated in the contest, representing the Geoje Island ABS employees.  They dressed in drag and were all set to sing "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night.  Unfortunately, the karaoke guy only had "Joy to the World" the Christmas carol.  So, under pressure, they picked the song "It's Raining Men," which no one knew.  It was unfortunate.  

Keegan and co. sing karaoke at the ABS Christmas party.

Other highlights of the karaoke competition included the scantily clad women of the Busan office and the amazing falsetto of the lone Korean man who sang "What's Going On" by the Four Non-Blondes.  Keegan fared much better in the beer-chugging competition, and for his pains he won a package of ginseng tea and some ginseng capsules, which led to some embarrassing comments to Steve and Sue about the ginseng-enhanced likelihood of a new grandchild.

On Sunday, we spent some more time in Busan.  This time, we visited Beomeosa, a Buddhist monastery in the mountains to the north of the city.  

Keegan, Ellen, Sue, and Steve at Beomeosa in Busan.

In the evening, we got together with Yoon's brother, Moon, whose apartment we had visited at Chuseok.  He took us out to dinner at a really wonderful little restaurant out past Haeundae Beach.  We ate some delicious Korean food, including some absolutely wonderful fish and some divine pureed pumpkin and potato dishes.  There was more teasing about future grandchildren because we had some dried jujubes with us.  Apparently there is a tradition that a bride's mother-in-law should throw a handful of jujubes toward the bride, and the bride should catch them in her shirt.  The number of jujubes that are caught is predictive of the number of children she will have.  So we laughed a lot and tried it out.  I'm not sure how many I caught, so I'm just saying it was no more than two!  Keegan and I have been invited to go hiking in the spring with Moon and our other dinner companion, Dr. Lee, and we are very excited about that.

Monday was a travel day back to Geoje Island.  Taking the car ferry back was a bit of a headache since we had a little trouble finding the ferry terminal, trouble buying the tickets, and trouble parking in the tight spaces on the ferry.  Let it suffice to say that the gestures of Korean officials directing traffic are often indecipherable, and this can lead to some frustration.  But we made it onto the boat and back to Geoje in one piece, and next time, we'll be like old pros.  We spent the afternoon unpacking and grocery shopping, and then we enjoyed a good old-fashioned Western dinner.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Day in the Life

Like many of my friends who have blogs, I've been feeling lately like there's not much of interest to write about. The normal day-to-day goes by, and it just doesn't seem very blog-worthy. But yesterday was a normal day with a few interesting quirks, so today's entry will be dedicated to writing about what I usually skip over.

A day in my life in Korea:
7:10 a.m. Wake up and read in bed for a while. (I know, I know, luxurious. Believe me, I appreciate it.)
7:30 a.m. Keegan comes in to tell me good-bye and lets in the kittens. Snuggling commences.
7:40 a.m. Get up reluctantly and prepare for a trip to the pool.
8:05-8:30 a.m. Drive to the pool past the DSME (Daewoo) Shipyard. Barely even glance at the huge cranes and masses of half-built enormous ships.
8:30-9:00 a.m. Enjoy a swim at the newly renovated pool. It's 5,000 won per swim, but the monthly fees for the pool are so exorbitant that it makes sense to pay every time unless you plan to swim practically every day. The new locker rooms make me feel a little more like I'm getting my money's worth.
9:00-9:15 a.m. Shower and get dressed with twenty of my closest naked friends.
9:15 a.m. Turn in my locker key to the friendly woman at the pool desk. Yesterday, I was stopped by a man also working at the desk, who asked me to sign my name and handed me some free goodies promoting the newly renovated pool. I received a small bag, a huge and very, very nice umbrella, and a little baggie of warm dumplings made from rice paste dough and filled with sweet red bean paste. Like many Korean food items, I found them vaguely and indefinably distasteful.
9:40-10:10 a.m. Change into yoga clothes, eat breakfast, begin planning the afternoon's lesson.
10:10 a.m. Leave for yoga.
10:30 - 11:30 a.m. Yoga class. There were very few women yesterday. A few Koreans, some Brits, Norwegians, Ukranians, and unusually, only one Brazilian. Our teacher directs us in her own special English, which I love, but only came to understand after a few classes. It is peppered with "chang-ee" (change) and "po-jee" (pose - Korean doesn't have a 'z'). Yesterday there was a photographer who came in to take publicity photos of our class. I didn't want to be photographed in my unshowered, scantily clad, uncomfortably contorted glory, but what can you do?
11:30 a.m. - 11:45 a.m. Stop at post office to mail Christmas cards and pick up boxes for Christmas presents. Use my Korean to specify the number of boxes. Am met with skepticism at my Korean ability and my desire for nine boxes.
noon - 1:15 p.m. Shower, finish planning the afternoon's lesson, leave for Gohyeon.
1:15-1:40 p.m. Drive to Gohyeon and listen to "This American Life" on my iPod. A highlight of each Tuesday and Thursday.
1:40 p.m. Arrive in Gohyeon late, race to my students apartment. Spend an hour going over food vocabulary and vowel sounds and talking about count and non-count nouns.
2:45 p.m. Drive to HomePlus, the nearby superstore to run some errands. Park four stories below the ground in a miniscule parking space. Take the escalators all the way to the sixth above-ground floor because the elevator is sooooo slow.
3:00-3:30 p.m. Get a haircut at Park Jun's salon. My hairdresser didn't speak English, so it was a quiet but pleasant experience. My shampoo included, most notably, a step where the hairdresser ran her hands briefly under very hot water and then massaged my earlobes. I highly recommend it. At the end of my haircut, the hairstylist apologized, and then reached into her tray of hairstyling supplies to pull out a notebook with a number of salon-related English phrases, including "Is your hair short enough now?" It was.
3:30-5:00 p.m. Wander around HomePlus buying many things I don't need. Buy cat litter (which we do need) and greet the enormous Persian at the vet whose cheeks are dyed rosy red. Get accosted by Jehovah's Witnesses in the baked goods aisle. Politely refuse their request for English lessons. Sample delicious fried dumpling. Pay way too much for my cart brimming with imported and rare goodies. Like ground (not instant) coffee and decent wine.
5:00-5:30 p.m. Drive home and finish my episode of "This American Life."
5:30-6:00 p.m.Unpack and unload everything, greet cats, snack ravenously.
6:00-7:30 p.m. Cook and eat a big pan of ratatouille with moderately good bread from the bakery at HomePlus. Keegan is home and tells me about his day at the shipyard as I cook and he helps with the dishes. (I know, I know, he is appreciated, too.)
7:30-8:30 p.m. Pack up and address Christmas gifts to send to the U.S.
8:30-9:30 p.m. Watch two episodes of the Simpsons on DVD with Keegan.
9:30-10:15 p.m. Check the Internet and get ready for bed.
10:15 p.m. Into bed, with book and kittens once again.

So, I hope this recitation gives you some idea of how my days are filled here. And some idea of why I sometimes don't write about them!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Speaking your sleep!

One of my students told me this week that she woke up to her husband laughing at her. "Why?" I asked. Because, she told me, she had been talking in her sleep in English, saying things like "How are you?" and "What's your name?" I think this woman is a natural language learner! Either that, or I've been giving her too much homework.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving in Korea

What a busy Thanksgiving weekend we had! On Thanksgiving itself, not much happened. We had our final Korean class and exam, which was very short and not too difficult. Keegan and I went out to dinner at an Indian restaurant - about as atypical a Thanksgiving dinner as you can get, but tasty nonetheless. They had the restaurant decorated for Christmas, and it was quite festive.

On Friday evening Glenda and I cooked up some Thanksgiving favorites at our apartment, and we invited Daniel and Marina to join us for dinner. Glenda made chicken and stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie. I contributed corn, carrots, and garlic mashed potatoes, as well as whipped cream for the pumpkin pie. Daniel contributed a homemade game of Twister, which gave us at least an hour of raucous, muscle-straining good times. Then we played some rousing hands of Ligretto (a fast-paced German card game that's lots of fun with a bunch of people). A good time was had by all.

On Saturday afternoon, we had our second Thanksgiving dinner at the apartment of another American ABS family. They had invited around twenty people over for dinner, and there was tons of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. I made my first pumpkin pie ever (it came out great, if I do say so myself) and a green salad with spinach, lettuce, dried cranberries, walnuts, and a strawberry vinaigrette. There were also two large pans of green bean casserole, which I think I devoured a large portion of, as well as clover-leaf rolls, which I hadn't had in a long time. Mom used to make them all the time when I was a kid, and I was so excited to see them at Thanksgiving dinner this year! (Thanks, Jackie!) For dessert there were pumpkin and pecan pies, pumpkin cheesecake, and an apple crisp. We stuffed ourselves silly and were ready for bed by about 6 p.m.

On Sunday, my Thanksgiving was completed with a bike ride to burn off some tiny amount of the calories contained in the mountains of green bean casserole I ate. Keegan had gone riding with some of the guys on Saturday, so on Sunday it was the girls' turn. We drove out to our favorite bike route on Chilcheondo, an island off the coast of Geoje. It was my first ride with my new clipless pedals, and I think it went really well. At first, I thought the hills were much easier with the new pedals, but by the time I had finished my first lap of the island (about 13 km), my legs were burning. By the time I finished the second lap, I was absolutely bushed. After dinner, my legs were so tired that I lay on the floor and moaned for a while. I guess my dad was right that starting with the new pedals would require building up strength in new muscles, since with your feet clipped in you can both pull and push on the pedals. Fortunately for me, I have a wonderful husband who gave me a post-ride leg rub, and today I'm not sore at all.

Of course we missed friends and family quite a bit this Thanksgiving, but we are also very thankful for the chance to spend Thanksgiving with the new friends we've made here, who are not only good company, but also terrific cooks and workout partners!