Friday, July 30, 2010

A Look at North Korea

July 29th was a day that Andrew and I had been anticipating for a long time. We finally were getting the chance to visit what Bill Clinton claims as, "The most dangerous place in the world." During a very hostile time on the Korean Peninsula, we were going to tour the Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ. This zone roughly cuts Korea in half at the 38th parallel and is the most heavily militarized boarder in the world. Our guide also told us that this area has become quite a nature reserve since it has virtually been untouched since the war 'ended.' There is a lot of history that goes into this 160 miles long by 2.5 miles wide strip of land, that is really very interesting and I recommend reading up about it. There is not enough space in this blog to fill you in. Tensions are so high between the North and the South right now, that instead of wearing cotton hats, the soldiers on the boarder have switched to helmets.

I would also like to apologize for the lack of pictures on this blog. There were very few places that we were even allowed to take pictures.

Our tour began at the USO check in at 7:10am and it took about an hour and a half to get to the Joint Security Area (JSA) where we would be briefed by a US soldier and sign a waiver. The JSA was the most exciting place that we visited but unfortunately we spent the least amount of time there. This is the place at the boarder where the South Korean soldiers and North Korean soldiers are dead locked on each other and where they have held all negotiations between the two countries since 1953. The 'wall' that divides the two at war nations is only about six inches high. It was interesting that the S.Korean soldiers stand with half of their bodies hidden for both safety reasons and it allows for one arm to be hidden in order to signal suspicious activity without N.Korea knowing.

It was very eerie knowing that the N.Korean soldiers were watching our every move with cameras and binoculars...the whole area was a bit uncomfortable and there was so much tension.

The blue building in the middle of the first picture is the meeting hall between the two countries. We got to go inside, (as do tours given by N.Korea but not at the same time) where we saw two S. Korean soldiers in a ready stance as well as a few tables, some chairs, cameras and two doors. The one we came in from the South, and the other leads to the North. After a very short introduction by our guide, we were allowed to walk around the table into North Korea. Here Andrew and I are standing with a S. Korean soldier in N.Korea...this explains the awkwardness and uneasiness of the picture. It's hard to tell, but the wall next to the door that leads to the North is pretty worn down. That's because when one S. Korean soldier goes over to lock or unlock the doors, another braces himself using the wall and holds on to the belt of the other soldier so he doesn't get pulled in to the North by their soldiers. This happened a few years back thus the necessity of this process.

There were several stories we were told about some of the disrespectful things that the N. Korean soldiers do in the meeting hall when the S. Korean soldiers aren't in there. One story was that there use to be little flags from several nations of the U.N on the meeting table. During a meeting between South Korea and the USA on TV, N.Korean soldiers blew their noses and polished their shoes with the mini flags of both countries. Now the flags are framed and mounted on the wall.

After leaving the meeting hall, we boarded the bus and continued the rest of out tour inside the bus for security purposes. We even had to skip one spot because do to the current political tension between the two countries, we were told we couldn't stop. We got to vaguely see some watch towers as well as the "Freedom Bridge." This bridge was the site at the "conclusion" of the war where prisoners from both sides were freed and demanded to pick a side. They would never be allowed to cross this bridge again once they made their decision.

We left Panmunjeom, the site of the JSA and then continued our tour to see the third of the four Incursion Tunnels. Since November 15, 1974, four tunnels have been found by S.Korean soldiers dug by N.Korean soldiers for the purpose of making surprise attacks on the South. Once they were discovered, the North denied that their purpose was for an invasion stating that they were for coal mining. However, no coal has ever been found and it was later discover that the North had gone so far as to paint the inside of the tunnels black to resemble coal. The South
believes that there are more tunnels, they just haven't been discovered.

The third tunnel was pretty much just a tunnel with a steep incline followed by a hunched over walk and then backtracking our trail to hike up the steep slope once more. Sorry, again no pictures because we were not allowed. However it is interesting to note that although Korean citizens can't tour the DMZ, they can tour the tunnel.

After the tunnel hike, we took a few pictures outside then boarded the bus to see our next site. We went to an observatory where we could get a better view of N.Korea from a top a small mountain. Again, we couldn't take pictures for safety purposes but the view was beautiful. Lush green land and beautiful mountains served as the back drop for the massive 160 meter, 600 pound North Korean flag.

Next we enjoyed a delicious bulgogi Korean lunch before heading to our final spot of the day, a train station. "Following the South-North Joint Declaration made by the two Koreas on June 15, 2000, both agreed to connect the Gyeongui Railroad Line broken during the Korean war. Dorasan Station was opened April 11, 2002, and the South and the North connected the Gyeongui Railroad Line on June 14, 2003 at the Military Demarcation Line in the DMZ." With the hopes of one day being able to unify the two Koreas, this beautiful new station is ready to be used. It was a little sad seeing the sign that said "T0 Pyeongyang," the capital of N. Korea, but knowing that options doesn't actually exist. We received a commemorative stamp that says "Dorasan to Pyeongyang" in hopes that one day it can happen. I loved a quote that was written on a very large poster at the entrance of the station, "Not the last station from the South, But the first station toward the North."

I hope that everyone who comes to Korea takes the time to do this tour and I know I appreciated it so much more living here for the past year. The whole experience filled me with different emotions. I was scared at first knowing that the two Koreas were currently on the worst terms than they have been on in recent years. I was excited to see a place that not many people get to see. I am saddened by all the hurt and anguish that the 38th parallel has caused for so many Korean families. And I am hopeful for what is to come in the future when the two Koreas can once again be unified.

Korean War Museum II

Andrew and I had vacation July 24th –Aug 1st, so instead of going somewhere exotic, we decided to finish seeing the sites we had missed in Seoul. I enjoy going to Seoul, however it does make me miss the calm and less chaotic life we live in Ulsan.

The first thing we wanted to see was the War Museum of Korea. If you remember from an earlier post, we had been to the museum last October during Chuseok, but only toured the outside facilities. This time, we wanted to check out the inside of the museum.
The inside is massive and after spending over two hours there, I was glad we split the museum into two visits. We were also exited to see that last month was the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, so they were having a special DMZ exhibition.

After walking through the many rooms and eras of Korean history, I was once again reminded that I am glad I’m American. No wonder most of my students dislike history so much. There is so much history on the Korean Penninsula and so many wars, and enemies, and heroes, and facts…it was hard to keep everything straight. My favorite part of the museum was the part dedicated to the Korean War. They had a really great exhibit dedicated to the countries in the United Nations that aided the South during the war. I was very proud to be an American when I entered that room and read everything that the USA did to help the South. It truly is the forgotten war for the USA, and it saddens me that we were not taught more about it in history classes growing up.

One of the coolest things in this exhibit was “The Drop.” In rememberence of both Korean and U.N soldiers who lost their lives in the war, 1,300 I.D tags form the shape of a tear drop. The iron thorns symbolize the horror of the tragic war.

The DMZ exhibit was $5 extra a piece but since the next day we were going to the real DMZ, we thought it would be interesting. It was mostly just pictures and photographs but the disappointing thing was that it was completely in Korean. I wish we would have been told, but we were still able to enjoy the pictures, we just wish we could have read the captions in order to get more out of it. I thought it was a very nice display for the people of Korea to get a chance to see inside the DMZ since they are not allowed to visit the real DMZ. The people of Korea are still not allowed to visit the 38th parallel because the government still fears that in desperation to see their families, people would try to cross the boarder and then would immediately be killed by North Korean soldiers.

Mud Fest!

It was pretty much what it sounds like. On July 19th, Andrew and I boarded a bus at 10:00pm anticipating our ‘3.5’ hour bus ride to the north eastern part of Korea. Well, it was actually more like 11pm when we left and the 3.5 hour bus ride turned into a 6 hour bus ride! This was due to two circumstances: 1) It was pouring down rain, so we were driving a little slower than usual. 2) 80% of the bus thought they would get the party started early and drink on their way up to Boryeong. Well we all know what happens when you start drinking…your bladder fills up quickly and thus the five pee stops we had to make. We rolled in to our hotel at 5am.

I forgot to mention that along with the drinking, there was bus karaoke. So sleeping wasn’t an option. Mixing drunk people stuck on a bus with a very loud karaoke system was just a recipe for annoyance and disaster. At least our bus didn’t have a puker like the other Ulsan bus did…haha.

This whole festival began when members of this little town were suffering from a lack of tourism. They created this event to draw in expats from all of Korea to get drunk, spend money, and roll around in some mud; and 13 years later it’s still one of the most anticipated events in Korea. Naturally Andrew and I had to check it out.

So the next morning (the same morning we arrived) we walked down to the beach. It was absolutely pouring pitchforks and hammer handles, but we weren’t at mud fest to stay clean and dry so we went with it. Basically, we would cover ourselves in mud, play around in the waves of the ocean, participate in some obstacles courses, and then repeat. Sorry I have no pictures because I didn’t want to ruin my camera. But you can google the festival…there are tons of pictures!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Teacher Rafting Trip

Had an interesting experience rafting with the teachers at my school last weekend. I'm going to take another stab at writing it out in a fun poem, enjoy!
Just last weekend July 9th and 10th,
The teachers decided on a ‘rafting’ trip.

Not sure what to expect but agreed and took part,
After all that occurred I can’t say it was smart.

I boarded the bus and was given a snack,
Octopus jerky I wanted to yak.

We pulled out of Ulsan on Friday at three,
The drive took four hours with no place to pee!

Although it was early and still the afternoon,
The male teachers used the bus as a moving saloon.

I was called from the back to join in the fun,
One Dixie cup of Soju and I was done.

I already get car sick and didn’t want a full bladder,
They ignored this idea because it didn’t matter.

Nathan and Dorian joined in and weren’t cautious,
The swaying and booze caused them to be nauseous.

Four hours later we arrived at our destination,
In the middle of nowhere was our current location.

Only corn stalks and mountains and our place for the night,
It looked new and clean with no reason for fright.

Boys in one room and girls in the next,
I have never stayed in such a complex.

Our room had two rooms that were bare with no beds,
We didn’t have blankets or pillows for our heads.

On the floor were dead spiders and a few other bugs,
This had to be a mistake can I at least have a rug?

After the shock I walked down the stairs,
The smell of meat on a grill was filling the air.

Pig, rice and green leafs is all that I took,
And an oyster type food that I got to cook.

The oyster was a first and I dove right in,
Only to find that it was chewy and thin.

I stuffed in rice and kimchi to try to get it down,
I had no luck and was starting to drown.

Dorian got me some water and after way too long,
I was able to swallow and rush dinner along.

Some drinking and chatter is what took place next,
Then a game of night volleyball kept the drunkards in check.

Tired and hungry I went to “bed,”
Dreaming of eating some butter and bread.

It was the worst night, I did not even sleep.
The women woke up early I wanted to weep.

A quarter ‘till six on a freakin’ Saturday,
The ladies were up and ready to play.

I was called downstairs to go for a hike,
A beautiful movie scene is what it looked like.

The river was peaceful and the mountains so pretty,
The morning fog rolling in, a nice change from the city.

More volleyball was played and then breakfast was served,
No eggs, just kimchi and rice is all I observed.

We boarded the bus around nine oclock,
We didn’t drive more than just a few blocks.

Donggang River is what we would float,
A big yellow raft we would use as our boat.

After strapping the life jackets and helmets on tight,
We hauled our two rafts and began the fight.

It started out fun at first then my arms starting hurting,
Being unaware of the safety tips became disconcerting.

The water speed picked up and then it turned white,
We began bouncing and paddling with all of our might.

“Hanna Duel Set Net,” our guide yelled from the back,
We kept going fast and into rocks we would smack!

I can’t tell you how often our raft would get stuck,
Wedged in between rocks it was always our luck.

At one point our guide fell out of the raft,
At first we all smiled and started to laugh.

We were flying down this river with no one to guide,
Dorian fell out too but pulled himself back inside.

We crashed in some rocks which allowed the guide to get in,
With sharp rocks and fast water, think what could have been?

His shin was gashed and the swelling began,
You could tell it really hurt, he was such a tough man.

Two hours in, we pulled the boat to the side,
We ate a quick snack before continuing the ride.

One hour left and my arms were so dead,
All I wanted was to sleep in a bed!

When we made it to the end I was so elated
You could tell our fun index had significantly faded.

The rafting was fun and entertaining at times,
Had this been in America, a waiver woulda' been signed.

We changed our wet clothes and boarded the bus,
We had a bibimbap lunch waiting for us.

We scarfed down our lunch and walked around,
A TV set and a cave is what we found.

The set looked real, and resembled a palace,
My co-teacher Sunny began getting a callus.

You see while we rafted she was pushed in,
Her right shoe fell off and we never saw it again.
As we walked back, found by one of the guys,
An abandoned pink crock and it was just her size!

The cave was dark, cold and very wet,
A nice little break from the sun and the sweat.
As we walked through the ceiling got lower,
Without being warned we were crouched and walked slower.

This lasted too long and our backs started aching,
I was ready to leave and was done picture taking.

Once again it was our bus we got on,
The ride home being quiet, I started to yawn.
Four hours later back in Ulsan at last,
Another dinner was offered, but I had to pass.

Exhausted and hungry I had to get back,
I wanted to sleep and had to unpack.

Took a quick shower and then went to bed,
I was out by 9:30 with a pillow under head!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Jumpin' June

My time this semester has become so routine, that I have resorted to one blog post a month. I know that's really sad, and it may seem lazy, but there is just not a lot going on these days.

Saturday June 5th, Andrew and I heard that Ulsan Grand Park was having a festival of roses; so naturally we had to clear our busy schedule to check it out. This park truly lives up to it's name, it's very grand and we weren't sure which part of the park was holding the festival. After some walking in the hot sun we found it. It was BEAUTIFUL! There were thousands of bloomed roses of every color and size. It was a great day for "couple tee" spotting. These couples came dressed and ready for their pictures to be taken, and men have no shame when it comes to matching the lady they love (Andrew refuses). They also had a few interesting lawn ornaments that made for great photo opportunities but the lines were too long to wait in, so we only manage to take one.

We walked around for awhile until we got tired of dealing with the mass amount of people that were there. We bought some ice cream and then began our hike back home.

Saturday June 12th was the first world cup game for Korea. Andrew and I wanted to get in the full spirit of things so with our Home Plus-bought jerseys on, we fought the crowd at Taehawa River where an outdoor viewing of the game was being held. Picture a big flat grassy field next to a river with several large screens and a stage set up for viewing. EVERYONE was wearing red and many people were sporting the light up devil horns ( I really wanted some, but they were sold out) because Korea calls themselves the red devils. 대 한 민 극!! (Dae-Han-Min-Gook) was constantly being shouted and everyone was cheering. Andrew and I decided to pick a spot and just sit down before we would have to sit somewhere where we wouldn't be able to see. Well, what we thought was a good spot ending up being the biggest pain. We were constantly straining our necks in every direction trying to see. People would inch their way in front of us, standing, and it got old fast. Luckily for a few min, an old Korean man sat in a chair next to us and would yell at anyone who stood in his (our) viewing area. He finally got fed up with it and moved.

It was hot, and rainy but everyone was still in pretty high spirits. It reminded me a little of 4th of July at Corporate Woods...minus the Devil Horns and things being shouted in Korean. When Korea scored their first goal against Greece, it was done by Park Ji-Sung. He is basically the biggest athlete after Kim Yuna in this country. People went absolutely nuts! Andrew and I ended up leaving at half time to finish watching it at home because we just couldn't see anything. Luckily, we didn't have to miss a minute of the game on our way home because the taxi driver had his TV playing the game. We got to celebrate Korea's second goal with the cab driver. It was fun to experience the atmosphere and we were glad we went.

For the first three weeks of June, Johnson was in charge of helping 8 students with an English play. So every afternoon for 3 straight weeks, I got to hear the students practicing and helped them make their props. June 18th was the big performance of "The Magic Fish," (but for costume purposes, it was more like the magic dolphin). The kids did a great job considering the entire play was in English and they looked adorable doing it. Check out our awesome laptop, camera, MP3 player, cell phone, refrigerator, and flat screen TV we made.

Let's see, what else...
June 19th I went shopping in Daegu with a couple other female teachers...
June 13th and 27th Andrew and I went to the orphanage again...
June 24th a woman learning to drive accidentally hit the gas instead of the breaks when she was parking and drove through the wall of our English Zone...

Also June 24th in one of my 4th grade classes four students had to run around the classroom once before they could write the answer on the board. Well, one boy thought he would be smart and run the opposite direction to avoid congestion around the curve. Only two people ended up at the board out of the four. Turns out the boy didn't think things through. I went back to check on him and he was holding his nose while a taller girl was holding her mouth. It was obvious what had happened. I peeled his hand off of his nose to assess the damage: instant swelling and bruising as well as a deep cut down his nose...broken. She wouldn't let me see her mouth so I sent them to the nurse right away, never to return back to class. I felt to horrible.

Well that's all that happened in June. Like I said, nothing too exciting.