Saturday, October 27, 2012

Korean Living: Our Pohang Apt

Sometimes, pictures just say it better. Here are some images of our apartment here in Pohang, South Korea.
This is the view from the hall of our apt. complex, looking into our apt.
Immediately to the right, is our 'living room.' Here you can see our futon and our kitchen table
Here is the other side of the living room. Our kitchen table doubles as our TV stand. Sweet wallpaper huh?
Through the sliding doors of our living room is our laundry room. We only have a washer, Koreans hang dry everything.
View of our kitchen from the futon. Our mini fridge-microwave-toaster oven combo.
Our kitchen. Sadly we don't have an oven or a dishwasher. Just a sink and two burners. 
Our tiny bathroom. Notice the odd placement of the shower head? Yup, between the sink and toilet with no curtain. When you shower in Korea, everything just gets wet and it drains under the sink.
Just to the right of the bathroom is our bedroom. We made those curtains out of felt. The sun was AWFUL before we became crafty! To the right is our "closet." It is really just a floor to ceiling rack. 
View of the other side of our bedroom. Closet on the left, and our "dresser" that we recovered from a school's trash pile. The unit above the dresser is the only air conditioning unit in the apt. There are no heating vents. In Korea, the heat comes through the floor. Notice how close we are to the kitchen? Convenient for a late night glass of water!

I hope this gives you a better indication to what apartment living in Korea is like. Super small compared to the United States, but we make due!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fall in Korea = More Food Trucks!

There hasn't been a whole lot going on in the past two weeks, but I'll give you a summary of the highlights:

Oct. 14th-
Andrew and I decided to walk around Bukbu Beach here in Pohang to enjoy some of the sites of Pohang's Annual Steel Art Festival. The idea stems from the fact that POSCO, one of the worlds largest steel manufacturers, is headquartered right here in Pohang. There was a wide range of sculptures and the weather was perfect to take in the sites and sounds of yet another Korean Festival.

Week of Oct. 15th-
Now that the temperature is a little bit cooler, one of mine and Andrew's favorite Korean snacks are back in the form of food trucks, Hodak! Hodak is a delicious pancake like dessert filled with brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts. Because it is served so hot, it is only easily found in the fall and winter months. Andrew and I have made it a part of our 45 minute walk home from work as the truck in conveniently parked half way through our walk. And at only .50, it makes it that much more delicious!

Oct. 19th-
I thought I was going to have to wait until the spring to experience another Korean elementary school's Sports Day event, but I was wrong. On October 19th, my school held a three hour event Friday morning where students took part in dancing contests, relay races, obstacle courses and food trucks! (Yes, they had food trucks outside the school serving pizza, cotton candy, chicken nuggets and of course silkworm cocoons, (and yes I have tried gross as they sound)).

Sports day: racing, dancing and eating
For the past two weeks, students have been practicing for the big event. I remember when I was in school it was the most anticipated day of the year! It was basically recess all day followed by school lunches of hot dogs and hamburgers, but there was never any practicing. Here, each grade performs a dance number and they are ranked on them. They ranged from the ever-so-popular Gangman style dance to traditional Korean dancing. All were equally adorable and entertaining. Parents and grandparents come to cheer on their students and even participate in a few events themselves. My favorite was the 100 meter dash. Several groups of "mom heats" where the mom's were hustling at a respectable 80% followed by the "dad heats" which were so competitive it was hilarious. They were definitely going for bragging rights. The grandparents even got to "fish" for a few prizes.

All of the kids were so excited and it was sweet seeing everyone so happy. When it was over, kids left with sugar-filled bellies and parents left with typical Korean consolation prizes consisting of toothpaste, bar soap and Kleenex boxes. It was a good day to be at Dae Hung Elementary School. (Poor Andrew, was stuck inside all day  teaching middle school...)

Oct. 20th-
Bulguska Temple
The first time we were in Korea, in 2009,  we stumbled upon a really famous temple, Bulguska, in the city of Gyeongju (located only a 45 min bus ride from Pohang). The colors around this temple were so gorgeous because of all the fall colors that we were excited to return to once again see the breathtakingly beautiful site. So on Saturday, Andrew and I boarded an intercity bus to take us to Gyeongju and then took another bus for 40 min to get to the temple. The place was packed with families having picnics and couples holding hands. With our camera around our neck we were ready for the views. Sadly, our expectations were let down as the site had not been as maintained as it was three years ago. The beautiful pond (see earlier blog post), is now covered in some sort of vegetation so that you can no longer see the water. Part of the beauty was seeing the gorgeous fall colors reflected in the pond. This time around, the leaves must have peaked a bit sooner and there was no reflection in site. A little saddened, we still enjoyed the day walking the hills of the temple and basking in the sun of a perfect fall day in Korea.

Random Picture Inclusion:
Andrew's weekly pick-up game with some of his middle school students. First it started out with four students. Then word spread fast that Andrew Teacher plays basketball. The numbers have since grown...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Water.Fire.Light...and Cheesballs

Jinju City Lantern Festival
September 24th-
My co-teacher: “Sarah, we have three days off next week, because of holidays. So no school Mon- Weds.”

I wish I had been told prior to the Monday before. Andrew and I sat around talking about what we could do/where we could go for a five day weekend so we didn’t let this free vacation go to waste.

After a wild scramble of researching destinations, places to stay and pricing options, reality set in and sadly, we were unable to leave Korea. The most logical location was going to be Taipei, Taiwan, however, they were supposed to be hit by a tropical storm this past weekend, so we didn’t want to risk being hostel ridden as it typhoons…we already know what that feels like.  

So we went to plan B. Stay in Korea, but get out of Pohang for a little bit. So that’s what we did.

On September 29th, Andrew and I boarded a bus and headed to our “hometown” in Korea, Ulsan. We wanted to check out all of our old stomping grounds to see what had changed and what has stayed the same. After a quick hour and fifteen minutes, we arrived at a familiar bus terminal. I have to be honest. It was so strange being back in Ulsan. When we left in 2010, I never thought we would come back to Korea, let alone, step foot back in Ulsan.

Not much had changed to “new” downtown. We walked around a bit, got a smoothie and then got in a taxi to take a look around “old” downtown. Again, not much had changed. Some new shops replaced the old ones but the atmosphere was the same. We decided to save a little cash and walk the 30 min to our old apartment. Again, surreal feeling. As we approached our street, the first thing I noticed was my old school, and WOW, had that changed so much! Hakesong had gotten a fresh new paint job, an indoor gym with a skywalk connecting it to the main school and they got actual turf! No more dirt field! I was so excited for them, what a huge difference.

As we were about to board a bus to check out Andrew’s school, we passed his old haircut place. We took a thirty minute break so he could get his $10 haircut from a familiar face! Yeompo Elem. hadn’t changed much, but they got an indoor gym as well!
Costco: Cheeseballs and Crowds

Before leaving Ulsan we made a trip to the new Costco! Yes, Costco in Korea! We were like kids in a candy store, I wanted to grab everything in sight! We got there at 6:30pm and it was closing early at 7pm due to the Chuesok holiday (Korean Thanksgiving) that was the next day. The place was PACKED! Everyone was shopping like mad, the payment lines were the longest I had ever seen and there was not a seat left at the food court. Korean’s were stuffing themselves with Costco pizza and hotdogs. Andrew and I made a quick plan at how to cover the most ground in 30 min and then we were off. Cheese, salsa, chips, oatmeal, Clorox cleaning wipes, peanut butter, a blanket, and frozen ravioli. Doesn’t seem like much, but those items are EXTREAMLY expensive here and at Costco we could get more for our money! Something Andrew and I began to notice as we lurked at the Korean’s carts, curious as to what American products they gravitated to. Cheeseballs….the massive bucket of Cheeseballs you can buy at Costco, EVERY cart had one! We had a good laugh when we saw the cheesball display and there was only one left!! After about two mins, we saw two little kids run to the display and grab the last one with satisfying smiles. Hilarious! We loaded up our American goodness, and boarded a bus back to Pohang.

Sunday, was the actual holiday, so most of the city was shut down. Andrew and relaxed and took a long walk on the beach!

Setting our lantern afloat
Monday we decided to head to Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival. We boarded a bus at 10am and rode three hours south to experience one of the most popular festivals in Korea, the Jinju City lantern festival. When we arrived, I was happy to notice the festival was only a five minute walk from the bus terminal and there were tons of little motels to choose from. We picked a random one (worried that there might not actually be a bed since sometimes in Korean hotels you sleep on the floor) but it worked out great. $35, a bed, air conditioning and a private bathroom!

We ventured around the festival. It was filled with tents of carnival games, interesting street food, and random products for purchase. The place began to really get packed around 6pm, two hours before all the lanterns were going to be lit. They had literally TONS of lanterns. Hundreds floating on the river, thousands hung in archways with wishes and dreams attached and even some floating ones that you could pay $3 for to make yourself. Andrew and I made one together, wished for a happy marriage, and even got interviewed by a Korean news station about the process. We are famous now!

Setting our lanterns afloat was such a pretty sight. Glowing, and floating down the river, with our wishes attached, it was a special moment. Until an couple hours later when we saw where most of the lanterns ended up…such a depressing sight.  
Rough journey...

We lined the river with the other people there to get a good spot to watch the fireworks display and official lighting of the lanterns. It was supposed to start at 7:30pm, but it began fashionably late at 8:05pm and was finished at 8:15pm. But wow, what an AMAZING fireworks display! Korean’s know how to put on a show, this picture just does not do it justice. When the show was over, we thought we would go the back way out of the festival to “beat the crowd.” HAHAHA! Everyone took the back way. I had never been pushed and tugged so much in my life. I can’t even describe the scene. (For the KC people reading this, it’s like the cluster of people leaving Corporate Woods on the fourth of July, but times 100, because there are 48 million people living in a country the size of Indiana and I swear most of them were at this festival!) We successfully made it out, sweaty and alive.

We would have loved to have seen another country, like Taiwan, during our five day weekend, but then we would have missed something as neat as the lantern festival going on right in "our own backyard!"

Amazing fireworks display over a river of lanterns!