December 15, 2011

Quick trip to Seoul

(Both patriotic and gaudy, Korea never ceases to amuse)

Living in Korea for over 15 months now, it is easy to forget how fantastic it is to jump on a train and get whisked off to the nation's capital for a day or two. The more often I visit, the less harsh and crowded it seems. I have learned to lean into the bustling traffic and found an area I know well and love. Of course, the seasons changing, and I was well over due for a weekend of shopping and good food. The decision wasn't difficult - we were off to Seoul.

Laura hadn't been to the Prison for Korean citizens during the Japanese occupation before, so drug our sleepy bodies out of our hostel and headed there first. It is easily in my top 5 must-see's in Seoul. If you can't commit to the time constraints of the DMZ and don't want to wander the War Museum, this is a great opportunity to see the Japanese invasion from Korea's perspective. It truly makes the Korean War more up-close and personal, and is well-worth the trip. These are taken in the park around the prison.

My favorite part about the city has always been the juxtaposition of ancient and modern structures. A city with a huge economy and global standing that preserves its history is notable. Seoul is packed - with a higher population and a smaller area of land than New York City - and yet, it has five beautiful palaces in the city limits. It is truly impressive to me that Korea values its history so deeply.

Next, we went to the Folk Village. I must say, I was mildly disappointed. It was mostly "museums," that charged 3 or 4 thousand won to look at different types of traditional arts. You could pay more and learn to do one of them - like paint a fan or tie knots. Compared to Andong, which is actually like a village where you can see people's daily lives, it was lackluster. They had posted their website,, but I couldn't get the site to work.

The more important point is that we had a fantastic weekend eating Taco Bell and Subway, meeting up with lots of friends for plenty of drinks, enjoying copious amounts of galbi, and shopping everywhere from Myeongdong to Insadong. Living the good life, obviously.

November 29, 2011

Seomun Fabric Market

In Daegu, the best place to scope out fabric is easily in Seomun Market. Unfortunately, the large building in the back of Seomun's main market burned down a few years ago. Now, it has been relocated a little farther from the market. My friend Erica has been before, and decided to show me around. It was an afternoon well spent.

Getting there: Take the subway to Bangogae Station. This is on the green line, one stop past Seomun Market Station. Then, leave out Exit 1 and walk straight. This is the building:

There are plenty of interesting booths, with an assortment of things to check out. We went in October, and there were plenty of seasonal items - from Halloween and fall prints to Christmas tree skirts!

For those looking to make winter blankets, there are booths with batting sewn inside.

Also, some have smaller swatches or pre-cut materials for a discounted price.

In my experience, all of the booths have used yards as measurements, and are even willing to sell them in halves. Feel free to haggle if you're willing to walk away from a print!

This wonderful woman was even willing to show me a competitor's booth with solid prints to match the print on the fabric I bought from her.

Now, my new goal is to make a duvet cover with all the fabric I picked up! It should be a pretty big task, but Erica's a pro and we decided to work on them together, as she wants to sew one, too.

November 21, 2011

Sobaeksan National Park

The weather is finally getting cold in Korea. I had really wanted to see Sobaeksan National Park and Danyang for a few weeks now, because I planned out a weekend's worth of adventure. After a few weeks of bad timing and poor weather, I made it up there.

Transportation: Sobaeksan is north of Andong. Coming from Daegu you can take a bus to Yeongju from Bukbu Terminal (which is what we did) or take a bus or train from Dongdaegu to Danyang. This way is faster, but its not frequent. We went up to Yeongju, stayed there, went hiking on Saturday, stayed another night in Yeongju, and headed to Danyang early on Sunday. After Danyang, we took a bus back to Dongdaegu. It was a packed weekend.

Bus time table from Yeongju to Sobaeksan

Although the hike was beautiful, the view from the top left something to be desired. It was so foggy out, we couldn't see anything beyond the peak!

The previous two are bus time tables from the Huibangsa Service area. If you can't find the sign - look up, its taped to the ceiling of the seating area for the bus.

Danyang is beautiful.

We went paragliding! It was fantastic. They basically threw a giant backpack on us, hooked a few straps and asked us to run off of a cliff. No training or preparation needed, just put on a helmet and go.

Contact info: Dan Yang Club at 010-9072-4555. It costs 80,000 won per person to go tandem. Its open 7 days a week starting at 9 am. They will pick up guests at the bus terminal.

Next, we went to Gosu Cave. Its the largest limestone cave in the area and has been referred to as the "best in Korea" by a few of the travel sights. I adore the rock formations all over Korea, so of course, this was a highlight for me. There are three other caves in Danyang, which I did not go to, but I recommend checking at least one out if you're in the area.

I've written an article about this trip, and included a lot more information in that. I will include a link to that when its online.

November 6, 2011

After School Program

I have been so busy I completely forgot to post about my new job. This is my "but, what do you DO there?" post, and can be read in contrast to my previous post on my hagwon job.

Now I am working for an after school program. This is similar to a hagwon, in that I do not work for the Korean public school system. It is different than most hagwons though in a few key ways. My employer is an agency that has contracts with many different public schools in Daegu, and they hire Korean and native English teachers to work at these programs. In general, each school has a native teacher one day a week and a Korean teacher for the rest. That said, their employees can end up going all over Daegu to work - sometimes five different schools a week! The biggest downfall is the commute. Some schools may be close and easy to get to, while others are a pain.

Personally, I live downtown, but my schools are far away. I commute for up to three hours four days a week, and thirty minutes each way for the fifth day. I work at one school four days a week - two days in each Korean teachers' class, and the fifth day at a different school on the other side of town. Each teacher has their own style of teaching and idea of what I am supposed to do - some only want me to review or play games, others want me to introduce new material and do more teaching. I try to do the best I can within their expectations.

I work at elementary schools, so my students are older than last year. They are also a lot lower levels, since they didn't go to an English kindy program. The classes are bigger - at most they can have twenty students, as opposed to the max of 10 at my old school. It is a mixed bag, and it is difficult to say which is "better," but I felt like my old job was a lot closer to a teacher's role in the US.

For those considering working for an after school program - brace yourself for the commute. You might luck out, but it isn't reliable. You can be moved to a new school at any semester break. They generally do not hire out of country - you have to already have been working in Korea AND be here for an in person interview. They pay well, better than most places - but you have to pay for the commute costs. Don't expect classroom resources, you probably won't have a copier, printer, paper, anything really. I am lucky if I have computer access and board markers. In general, the parents are less invested in their kids schooling, since they are paying so much less than hagwon parents. This is a blessing and a curse.

This is Shunnie, one of my co-teachers.

This is Noa, one of my co-teachers.

Noa had asked me to have a Halloween party, since it fell on my turn to teach her class this year. It was lots of fun, we played games and such. Here are a few shots from that day..