Friday, September 28, 2007

Subways and Superheroes

I've been a bit surprisingly sentimental a few times since arriving in Korea - not for the reason you might expect though. I simply can't allow myself to think too much or there would be a certain downward spiral and it would get ugly. I know this about myself.
A couple of times though I have let myself be affected by weird moments - both of them involving music and I thought I'd share and, you know... be all vulnerable and stuff.

The first moment happened a couple of weeks ago, and it involved the subway. There are many interesting things that happen on the subway - sometimes, a husband and wife team masquerade as a blind couple, wandering the cars and begging for change, only to emerge into the light a few stops later to open their eyes and count the change at street level. They give the legitimate pan-handlers a bad name, and there are legitimate (and truly unfortunate) ones here - believe me. Sometimes, someone will pray for the entire carload of commuters as shown in the photo from my last entry. Sometimes, someone will get onto your subway car selling all manner of goods - umbrellas, laser-pointers - what have you.
On one particular day a couple of weeks ago, Steph and I were on the subway and a gentleman came on with a cart full of children's CDs. I should have bought one. He was playing a song on a portable player - loud enough to advertise his goods without being intrusive. The song was "Puff the Magic Dragon" and I think I might have been seconds away from welling-up with tears before he got off at the next station and moved to another car. I don't think I have heard or thought about that song since the third grade. It brought me back, and every sentimental thought about childhood that could have possibly entered my head at that moment - well, did.

That's the sad side of me, but a permanent one I fear.
The second moment came a few days later when I tried a new class activity with one of my Junior classes. The exercise involves playing an English song for the class and handing them a sheet with the lyrics - only some of the lyrics are missing and they have to listen closely to the song a couple of times in an attempt to fill in the words - it's much harder than it sounds. It's also much harder than it sounds when the voice you are listening to belong to none other than Mr. Brad Roberts - lead singer of the Crash Test Dummies. It's pretty low, you see, and fairly difficult to decipher at times - especially for an ESL class.
So I found myself in the middle of a Korean classroom, surrounded by kids who were quiet (a rare thing) and intent on listening carefully to a song I had always enjoyed and admired the craft of... and then the lyrics struck me. The situation struck me. Looking at my Superman poster hanging in the classroom, I thought how infinitely cool it was to hear this Canadian band from back in the day, singing this song for the first time to these young and foreign ears. What was even more cool was hearing them discuss what the song meant afterward - what it means to decide not to do what you had the strength to do, and even what it means to despair: "And sometimes I despair the world will never see another man like him..."

After getting my emotional ass kicked in the last days prior to my leaving, I had tried really hard to not get all affected by anything that even bordered on sentimentality. But I reveled in this moment - even more than I did the subway song. What allowed me to do so was being able to walk between aisles of children listening closely to a sad song with their heads down and their ears open.
I was proud to have my sentimental mojo back. And I was encouraged to write about it after reading the writing of a friend from back home. Thanks, Collins.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hello?


To anyone out there who is still reading this, I must apologize for my lack of posting lately. You see, I've been catching-up on sleep, site-seeing and eating, but mostly just catching-up on report cards and essay marking and only able to write about sleep. In fact, writing report card comments is what I should be doing now. I am actually enjoying the process of commenting on my kids' individual attributes, though I wish it were easier to do in a technical sense. I am dreaming of the days of the red pen and paper style of marking.
So, faithful reader(s?), I leave you with a promise that I will post again soon, and I will tell you all about the last week when we walked around a fortress, saw some new and crazy stuff in Seoul, ate our food "Korean Style" with Sunny the zany Campbell''s Soup lady, but mostly just marked essays, wrote report cards and wondered why these two things are somehow infinitely more difficult to do over the internet. I have a few more report cards to write by tomorrow morning, when I will head to the PC Room and copy and paste the comments into the actual report card template. Pray for me, just like this guy was doing on the subway on Sunday night. I wonder if he knows something I don't...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dream Blog #4


Though I can't even count myself among his reluctant fans (If I want to listen to Michael Jackson in his prime, I'll listen to "ABC" or "I want you back"), I have to respect the Lake. He's good at what he does, even if it's not really my bag. He has a cool sense of self-deprecating humour, as evidenced by his SNL spoof from last Christmas, and he can take a brave shot at post break-up Britney through a thinly veiled "real life" video story that portrays him as a thoroughly unlikeable, obsessive jackass. I must admit, I'm a complete sucker for "Cry Me a River."
So, the other night, I had a dream that I was watching the Lake perform in a mall to a group of about 50 mildly interested passers-by. People didn't stop to listen for too long. In my dream, the Lake was a good friend of mine, and even though his mall performance was not well received, I was there after all to support a friend and I told him as his people were packing-up that he should keep his chin up, because things are going to turn around for him yet. Poor JT.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Dire Warning to Diminutive Grade School Boys Everywhere


One of the cutest little dudes that I have had the pleasure of teaching so far is named Harry - this is of course his chosen English name. He's great to have in class - very well-mannered and easy to engage in the day's activities or readings. Harry also happens to be one of the smallest boys I have seen in his age group in this or any other country. Just a cute and cool little guy.
After reading a segment on trickster tales however, young Harry shared a story with me through the writing of an essay that illuminated some of the struggles he faces in his everyday life. The topic - to tell me about a time that he played a trick on someone, and whether or not he thought that playing tricks was a good idea.
This, minus my corrections, is what Harry wrote...

"I just kidding girls when I was eleven term one.

I kid girls because they first bother me. They first kid me 'Shorty' because I am really short in term one. Then, I'm very angry so, I'd hit them and they hit me. Last, I kid them 'Fool' and they hit me. Girls are strong and strange.

I hit very fast and ran away. But there are so many girls that I can't escape from them away. When I do this, I hit from girls that they give me very strong punch and kick.

I return a very strong punch and kick to girls, but by then, girls peach on to the teacher so ..... you know what happen?A moment later, teacher frienghtened me. vexatious all night that day.

I think its not good idea to trick someone, I think.Do not trick anyone."

I think I might have pissed myself. "Vexatious" - sometimes, the swift, accurate and extreme use of a thesaurus is just the ticket.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Legend Comes to Seoul


A few weeks ago I opened a copy of The Korea Times while I was sitting in the teacher's lounge at work. It was my first time checking-out an English Language newspaper here and while it may leave a lot to be desired in the responsible journalism department (there was a front page editorial yesterday telling people to not take global warming too seriously), it is still valuable to hear about Seoul weather and some major news that is important to us Seoul area locals.

Much to my surprise, world-renowned Italian film composer Ennio Morricone will be coming to Seoul on October 2nd and 3rd to conduct an orchestra of over 100 musicians and 100 vocalists. It will be Morricone's first visit to Seoul, and potentially his last (he is 79 years old and aging fast).
Just this past Saturday, I asked one of the Korean staff at our school to help us purchase tickets online and she was a huge help. I couldn't find any websites in English and I wasn't able to use a foreign credit card to purchase tickets. She offered to pay for the tickets on her card and I ran across to a bank to get her money so that I could pay her back right away.

Apparently, it is a common thing for the Korean staff at our school to arrange such things. Crazy. After a couple of weeks of thinking about it, finally, I know we are going. We are also lucky that October 3rd (a Wednesday) is also a holiday in Korea ("Foundation Day") which means we won't be teaching that night. It seems the stars aligned for this.
I feel very fortunate to be living so close to one of the largest cities in the world, not because the shopping's good - but because I get to see one of the best film composers who ever lived, conduct a huge choir and orchestra in a concert venue in Olympic Park. I can't wait. Tickets ranged from 60,000 wan to 180,000 wan and even though we opted for the less expensive side of things, it is still a substantial purchase for us considering we won't get paid until 7 days later. Still - it's well worth it. I know I'd be kicking myself if I missed ths opportunity.

For those of you not familiar with Morricone's work, he is the composer of over 480 film and television scores. Some you might know include "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly", "A Fistful of Dollars", "Once Upon a Time in the West", "The Untouchables", "Bugsy" and "Cinema Paradiso" - one of my favourite films.
I first heard about Morricone through my music-loving sister, Sandy, who asked for the soundtrack to "The Mission" one year for Christmas. Next to Cinema Paradiso, The Mission is my favourite score from Morricone, and I can't believe that in just over two weeks I'm going to be hearing him conduct 100 voices singing "Vita Nostra". It's going to be sublime. I will be sure to take as many pictures as I can and tell you all about it.

If you think you're not familiar with Morricone's work, check him out on itunes and I'm sure you will recognize some of his stuff. I can't wait - a treat at the end of an extremely busy time. Thank you: Sandy, for introducing me to his music, and thanks to my Aunt Marilyn and Cousin Ernie for the extra financial boost before I left Calgary - I couldn't have afforded this night out without your generosity :)

Monday, September 17, 2007

An essay from an angry girl


I thought I would take the opportunity to post what is perhaps the most interesting essay I have received back from one of my older students at school. As most people are aware, there is a long, shabby history of warfare and soul-crushing occupation of the Korean people by the Japanese. There are many people alive who lived through it in their day and there is still a lot of residual bitterness and anger, even a couple of generations later on.
I wanted to get a sense of exactly how strong this feeling can be with some of my middle-school students, so the first essay I asked of them was to tell me what life would be like if Korea formed a modern day empire. I know, hot-button and all, but I think these kids were practically begging for a chance to express themselves with something they feel strongly about. They have a right to.
So, after reading all about the Romans and Byzantines, the assignment was to tell me if an Empire is a good thing or not, though the eyes of Korea being the one doing the Imperialistic dance.
Many of the kids have expressed anger at having to deal with Japanese ideas at all. But this really gave them a chance to let loose and tell me which countries Korea would occupy, what Korea would take from them, and what Korea would give to those countries as well. I'll let the essay itself pass without comment, only to suggest that you notice how this girl refused to capitalize "Japan". I'll let the essay stand without any corrections for your reading...

topic- A korean Empire?
What would happen if south korea formed an Empire?

When we formed an Empire, korean people will happy. because this mean, we almost have power, so Other countires can't get on our nerves. when we go to other country, they can't slight us. and we can protest about bad thing strongly.

when we formed an Empire, we will attack japan, first. because, 100years ago, korea was japan's colony. They put to horrible torture people who said korea's independence, took away our crops, muscular young men in korean were hunted for forced labor and they made many korean girls to comfort girls etc. but now they aren't apologize properly. so I want revenge on them.

We will take robot technology, fishig ground and hot spring from japan. because, These are global things and they took away many things from korea in old times. (this is a kind of vengeance) but later, we will return to them.

We will give fertile rice to them. because korea's rice is better than japan's. so long times ago, japan wanted get our rice. We have more better things than japan's. but I don't want give more thing.

When korea have power and colonies, this is very good situation! but it's only good at korea. I think freedom is most important thing and great power is not most important thing. when we make anycountry to colony, people in colony will show hostility to korea, cleary. and their descendants, too. so, I want there will be no colonies from now.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dream Blog #3


Before I relate my dream, I thought I'd first relate the fact that a major typhoon rampaged through South Korea on the weekend killing at least 100 people and turning more than a handful of cities near the south coast into the Korean equivalent of post-Katrina New Orleans, albeit with a lower death toll. Let's see how long it take for the South Korean government to act on this one and rebuild essential infrastructure. I'm guessing that it will take significantly less time for them to act than it did for Dubya and his good friend "Your doin' a heck of a job" Brownie. Just a guess. The story from BBC News can be read here...
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/2230215.stm
While buying a pizza last night, we were silently watching a news channel showing footage of the storm. It was truly harrowing. I then remembered telling our School Manager on Friday that we were planning a trip to Seoul on Saturday. He looked at me like I had Canadian Bacon for brains and then told me about the typhoon. But when the weather was fine the next day, we went in anyway. Of course, the typhoon took a completely different path and the worst we felt up here was a little bit of rain. My most sincere thoughts go out to all those affected by the storm.
I consequently decided that I really needed to start checking the news more. One doesn't really hear local news on the radio here (there may be a way, though I haven't found it yet) and we have very little time to read the newspaper at school. After reading this morning about a discount flight that crashed in Thailand, killing nearly everyone on board, well... I guess I'm a little less happy, a little more informed. I beginning to understand the island or peninsular mentality of isolationism.

Which brings me to my dream: all I remember clearly was that I was walking through a mostly dying forest with some kind of Jabberwock type thing following at a pace close enough for me to sense, but not to see. Maybe it was The Predator. Anyway, I remember in a more vague sense that whatever it was started speaking to me and it somehow, wordlessly instructed me to weave a large basket from the branches I found on the forest floor around me. I did this quite quickly and then it told me that I would have to be quick. A young tree that was no more than a couple of feet high flew at me and I caught it in my basket like a Lacrosse player. The tree started dying, and then whatever was in the woods started chanting in a single, solitary voice: "Stop walking, stop talking... start creeping, start weeping". I woke up and wrote this phrase down so I know that at least this bit was accurate.
But, looking out the window, we have blue skies today...

Seoul... and a bit about God

Saturday was another day of firsts for us in Seoul. It was our first trip up Namsan tower at night, our first trip to COEX Mall, and our first time see Seoul's version of the Exorcist stairs. However, it was far from our first time seeing rather unique religious phenomena. I'm not talking about the vague image of Jesus on a piece of toast. I'm talking about people like this guy...

We saw him at Suwon Station. He is one of many people we've seen here who take the hard-line approach to Christianity - who seem intent to warn us of the dangers of our ways by showing us artistic renditions of Jesus on the cross, non-believers burning in eternal hell fire, and by broadcasting their thoughts on megaphones as the masses pass.

Now worried about our sinful ways, Steph, our friends Amy and Roger and I, climbed the steps of Suwon Station ready for a trip to the largest underground mall in Asia - probably the closest we'll come to eternal hell fire, at least here on earth. But we wouldn't be done with fire and brimstone for the day... stay tuned.
Our trip to Seoul began with a nice surprise - while we waited for our subway, Steph spotted a vending machine on the platform and it didn't sell snacks or drinks - it sold books! What a cool idea. She was very sweet and bought me a copy of The Little Prince in Korean. What could be better motivation for me to learn the language?

As the weather network had forcasted rain in Seoul, we decided to hit-up Coex Mall - as I mentioned, the larget underground mall in Asia. It has a world-class aquarium in it and it is pretty freaking large, so we thought it would be worth a trip since our regular site-seeing plan was headed for a rain-check.
Well, as it turns out, it was really just a big freaking mall. We decided not to check out the aquarium, but save it for another day. We did see a couple of cool Christmas present-type stuff to potentially buy, but we'll wait a while for that. It took us only about an hour or so to decide that a mall was not where we wanted to be, and we left as soon as we could find our way out.

We did run into a few cool things on our trip through the mall though. We saw a fantastic place called a boardgame cafe, which apparently is a common thing here in Korea. I peered through the window and saw dudes playing chess as well as families playing Monopoly and The Game of Life together. It really made me long for Settlers of Catan, and I'm hoping that if Mom reads this, she can maybe send it to me in a Christmas package ;)

There were some other cool things too, like a bookstore that was about the size of two Chapters stores put-together. They had a HUGE English section with a great selection of all sorts of books. I think I'll be making a few stops there in upcoming weeks. I did buy my first Learning Korean book (which was recommended to me by a nearby English teacher who has been there for a few months) and I'm looking forward to cracking into it so that I can start feeling like I can at least begin to read some signs soon. I think it'll actually be a lot of fun to have some homework that is not school related.

We also saw a couple of bizarre mall and restaurant mascots as well as a great shop that sold classic western foods - like Campbell's Soup! It reminded me of the British-themed shops that used to be in Eau Claire market - the ones that sold zany English chocolates and the like, only here it was Snickers bars and instant mushroom soup mix. We indulged a little bit - just to have some comfort food at the ready.

I also saw a shop full of wacky character toys that Lonni and Tim would love, and a couple of great toy shops for Christian and Brandon, but perhaps the most wacky-ass thing we saw was a jewelry store called The Kiss. It caters solely to couples who want to buy that special something for their sweetie-pie so they can wear matching "I love you" rings, bracelets, necklaces and other glittery stuff.
I have to admit though, they have perhaps the worst translation I've seen here on a major advertisement so far.

If you can't read the photo, just trust me when I tell you it reads: "The Kiss is a Phenomenon that Happens to Lovers at the Precious Moment of Coming so much" I think I want to buy a ring that says just that. I know that this sounds terrible (especially coming from someone who has yet to learn more than five words in the native tongue), but I am constantly amazed at how much mis-translation goes on with major advertisements from large companies, or even with official World
Heritage merchandise or travel brochures.

I don't mention this intending to sound condescending, but I am simply amazed that some Korean speaking English, or English-speaking Korean person hasn't become a millionaire translator for exactly this type of purpose. Just a little something I thought I'd mention and if I ever find more mistranslation that puts a smile on my face, I will be certain to post it for you. I will also be happy to post future moments of me trying to say something in Korean, only to mistakenly ask some vendor for a t-shirt that is a more tomato size, or something equally unintelligible.
Before leaving the mall, I was handed this brochure - as I said, fire and brimstone was the order of the day. I must have looked a little bit downcast after spending so much time in a green mall.

We then headed back to the subway towards Gangnam where we had some dinner and after re-fueling, decided that we wanted to make the trip to Myeong-Dong which was right next to Namsan Tower - in case we wanted to make a night visit for a nice twilight view of Seoul. We wandered around the shopping district for a while and we ran into this guy...
Apparently not content to simply let the pictures of Hades stand on the ground like his Suwon Station brethren, this dude was packing heat! He unsheathed his own brand of God-fearing like a modern-day archangel would his wings and was able to move freely among the Myeong-Dong revelers while he tried to warn us about the approaching rapture with a more mobile approach.

After checking out the night time madness, we opened our map to find a way to get to the Namsan Tower cable car station. I pretty much guessed, but apparently guessed correctly as we were heading up some bizarre side-street that honestly looked more like someone's personal driveway, we finally saw this sign.

But to get there, we had to climb more than a few flights of stairs and some of us were beginning to be a little bit cross. I was excited though, and I was mostly excited that we had found what looked to be like the most backward way to a major tourist attraction. After a bit of a wait, we were herded into a waiting area that looked a lot like a Higgins Landing Craft from WWII and we made our way up Namsan Mountain in a cable car.

It was beautiful. The view of Seoul north of Namsan Mountain was stunning and the night time view from the tower's base view point was also worth the ride up. Here are a couple of shots to give you an idea of what it was like, but it's honestly impossible to describe the view. You just have to see it for yourself. Seoul looked almost larger at night time - the edges of the city seem to disappear into the night time mist as opposed to ending abruptly - it gives the effect of a limitless city.



After a trip back down the mountain on the cable car, we were ready for a long ride back to Suwon on the subway. But first - those stairs. It's always a lot easier on the way back down, but I ask you - how much do these stairs look like The Exorcist stairs? A lot, I think. It was admittedly a little bit creepy to take the trip down. There was even a windowed apartment to the right. Hmmmm...

All in all, it was another good trip into the city, though I must admit that I am more looking forward to checking-out a few more palaces and temples, a few parks by the river, and a few cool landmarks (Olympic and World Cup Stadiums to name a few). So much to see outside of Seoul, but so much to see inside of Seoul too. We slept well on Saturday.
Today has been another relaxing Sunday and tomorrow begins another week of teaching. It's been fun marking essays so far and I look forward to reading more as well as posting a few of my favourite excerpts here soon.
As far as the God blog goes, I like the sense of spirituality that exists here in places. Being someone who is more agnostic than anything else you can throw a label at, I find it interesting, not off-putting or enticing, to see people respond to religion or promote their religion in often extreme and public ways, but I prefer the quiet ways. I don't know enough about the culture here to comment on it with anything besides the odd snide remark, so please pardon my insensitivity if it offends you. I do wonder though why it exists here in this way. Something to think about, when I'm not thinking about cute little Coby, Cocco and Connie - the idols of consumerism and official mascots of COEX Mall, or the fact that a quiet Korean temple seems so much more appealing than an angry (and likely afraid) man walking with pictures of violent death strapped to his back.
I am looking forward to being in the company of children again tomorrow. Despite the rowdiness and sudden sleepiness that comes to young students in night school, their relative innocence will be a welcome reprieve.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Message To You, Shandi...

My friend Dee is a vegan, an active member of PETA and an unabashed animal-lover. I love her for it. Though she would not do too well in Korea with all of the animal eating that goes on here. So it is mainly for her that I post this blog entry - to show her that not all Koreans are blood-thirsty animal masticators.

Take for instance young Jenny - a girl in one of my senior classes who decided to present early this week about her endangered animal - the Harp Seal. She spoke with passion about her project and she really seemed to want everybody in the room to know how she felt about animals - specifically, those cute little Harp Seal pups. When I reminded her that I come from Canada - the country where most of the Harp Seal hunting takes place, she looked at me in stunned disbelief, and then glared at me as though she had developed a deep and immediate loathing. I had to act quickly to tell her that I don't personally hunt them and that I too am against the clubbing of baby seals. I think she's forgiven me, but I made her project the "Project of the Month" as insurance.

Then, not to be bested, was young Jane. Jane decided to present on not just one animal, but a number of them. She even added a little flip chart to her poster so that she could talk about more animals that she loves and worries about because they are endangered. Some of these kids are really passionate about animals and it has been cool to read their thoughts about the little critters.

In my younger senior class today, we were reading about Trickster Tales and we started looking at The Tortoise and the Hare - albeit a very different one that actually has a surprise ending. One of the other teachers, Sabrina, has purchased a rabbit and she brings it to class from time to time. I was lucky enough to get to borrow the bunny today and my kids just lit-up. They were pretty-much giddy about the little guy and kept commenting throughout the lesson: "Teacher - look! Ahhhh... so cute!" It was pretty great. I wish this blog had audio. So, yes - there are many Octopi that don't feel the love here on the Korean peninsula, but there are plenty of bunnies, Harp Seals and Bengal Tigers that get almost enough love to make up for that fact.

I think Dee may have melted during these presentations and since she couldn't be there, I do hope she zooms in on these photos so that she can feel the love too :)

My First Korean Film Review!


And after seeing the complete debacle that was D-War and deciding that it really was nothing to write home about, I decided to write home about it anyway. Check out my review of the worst film of the year so far - a completely irony-free movie about Dragons a damsel in distress. This ain't no King Kong, or Godzilla for that matter. Read my review at:
http://www.thatmoviesite.com
...while you're there - check out the other movie reviews that you'll see. It's a pretty cool site that a friend of mine has been running for a while now.
Apparently it opens in Calgary and across North America this weekend. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

These new-fangled things...


When we first got here, we were more than a little overwhelmed by everything that was new and all we needed to do to get accustomed to our new surroundings, buy groceries, and use transit without ending-up on Kim Jung-Il's doorstep. So far, so good.
One thing that we didn't have right away though was internet at our apartment - not the end of the world, but once you become accustomed to methods of communication, it's hard to shake the habit - especially when the habit allows you to keep in touch with people far-away in a way you never could before.
Also, it seems that the wireless capabilities at the school were a little bit more than lacking. Steph and others were in perpetual pout mode trying to sign-on to send an email to friends, or to access helpful websites for classes. There was indeed a pall of general sadness lingering in the air.

But now, with internet at our place, we can stop-by New York coffee and pick-up two steaming-hot cups of joe, and even be inspired by the encouragement printed on the carrying case as we blissfully write to our friends and do our best to keep up with our blogs.

But perhaps the best thing about having internet here at the apartment is the fact that we can use Skype - a sassy little internet calling feature that allows people to speak in real time through their computers for free. To call a land line through Skype is also cheap, but free sounds even better. We tried calling my sister yesterday and it was great to be able to hear her voice, hear the dog barking, and hear my little nephews giggling and breathing into the microphone in turn. Christian was very excited to tell us both about his trip to the Calgary Zoo about seeing the new baby elephant and then Sandy sent me an email with the some photos of the little guy. Technology can be pretty cool when you're far away.

I would invite the rest of you to get Skype (www.skype.com) and feel free to search for me as a contact - give me a ring. We are usually in the apartment until around noonish, Seoul time, so give us a call after dinner Calgary time and you never know what'll happen. It would be grand to hear from you! Oh... and remember to "enjoy the relax!"

That Second Saturday in Seoul...

As promised, here is a much more brief account of our trip into Seoul last weekend (September 8th). Because I've received a little bit of feedback that my blogs have been too long lately, and because I am pretty fargin' tired right now, I am going to make this one much more quick (maybe) and just fill it full of photos. So, enjoy...

I woke up Saturday morning a little bit (okay, a lot) later than I had hoped to. I know we're here for a year, and I know we have lots of time for cool stuff, but to me, for my sensibilities, I would much rather spend my free Saturday morning seeing more of my amazing surroundings as opposed to recovering from a hang-over I couldn't afford from the night before. Yeah, I'm sure there will some fun nights ahead for me at the bar, but right now, I'm all about getting up early on Saturday to get my ass into Seoul or elsewhere to see as much as I can.
So, we got up much later than we had hoped and got on the bus at 12:30 PM. That's a bit of a problem because at that time of day, the bus is FULL and we are forced to stand in the aisle for a 45 minute bus ride from hell. It's like Star Tours or Body Wars without the Disney touch. Just holding onto a greasy handrail while some sleeping, drooling clown spills out from his seat to lean on you for the duration of the trip. Usually, I wouldn't complain about standing, but when the bus stops and jerks in an extreme way every 30 seconds, you begin to get a bit tired, and more than a bit motion-sick. Steph is usually the one to feel spewish, but even I was feeling it by this point. What really made me bitter was knowing that there was a better way had we only gotten up earlier. Don't worry though - I got over it quick :)

We got dropped-off in Gangnam. though when we got off of the bus, we really had no idea where the hell we were. Thankfully, in Seoul, a subway stop is never really far away. We made it to the subway and after a quick transfer and a few stops, we made it to Deoksu-gung Palace to watch the changing of the guard. It was very cool, if a little bit touristy (but hey - we ARE tourists still) and then we headed across to City Hall just to see what was going on. This was really our first time in a new section of Seoul without a true itinerary. It was actually really exciting to just kind of go with the flow and see whatever we saw on our way to wherever.


We decided to head towards Namdaemun market - a place we remembered from our last trip in, and on our way there we were fortunate enough to spot the South gate to the old city. A huge building from the 14th century, it now stands almost in a traffic circle right across the entrance to Namdaemun market. But I prefer to call it by its more impressive name: "The Gate of Exhalted Decorum". It just sounds more cool.



After checking-out the gate, we headed into Namdaemun where we each bought our first litte trinket. Like a big cheese ball, I opted for the Korean knock-off side and bought an LA Dodgers toque for only 4,000 wan ($4 Canadian) while Steph bought a little shining cherry pin for her sweater. Sadness descended however when we emerged from the market to take pictures of a nearby fountain and Steph lost her little pin.


All was not lost though. After looking for her pin for a few minutes - back-tracking and staring at the ground, we began to walk away. And then I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne, or more accurately, remembered my sister, Sandy's story about looking for her husband's wedding ring at a construction site in the middle of the night. Turns out Jason lost his ring on the job during the day, but armed with flashlights, they headed back to the site at night and Sandy simply knew where to look. She used her divinity to point the light at the precise spot in this huge, dark construction site where the ring was partially covered in dirt.
I know my story is not as cool, but I was inspired by Sandy's story and I just had a feeling of where it was. After we walked away a few feet and asked Steph to hold-up and I walked directly to a metal grate surrounding a newly-planted tree, and there it was - her little cherry pin. Was she a happy girl! I thought it was pretty cool.

Anyway, on from there we took a quick bite to eat at Shinsegae Mall - a ridiculous shopping centre full of high-end brand names and even a Tiffany's boutique on the main level. After that, it was on to Myeong-Dong, perhaps the busiest place I've ever been in my life. It is probably 20 solid blocks of side streets and main streets, all filled with people and predominantly western brand-name clothes. Major League Baseball is huge here and there was an MLB store so full that they had a staff member permanently perched on a ladder by the fitted hat area so that he could deal with the mob of people trying to find their right size. Gong show.

We walked straight to the end and saw a few things worth mentioning:

A holy Christian monument on top of a convenience store and in the same complex as a beer and hard liquor shop...

A few posters for Korean versions of major, recent broadway musicals and plays coming to Seoul in the next while...


And, a huge Catholic church under rennovation. Myeong-Dong Catholic Church is on a hill over-looking the mass consumerism below. There was also a garden with an idol of Mary and a place to light a candle. I decided to light one for my mom. Neither of us are Catholic, but I know my mom would have appreciated it and so I did it. Safe journey to Ma and Pa as they make there way to the East coast of Canada this week.



After our dizzying trip through Myeong-Dong, we headed back towards Sanbon to meet our friends, Ian and Bonnie for dinner and a movie.

It was great to see them - only our second time seeing them since being here - and it was also good to be able to spend some time with them without us being all jet-lagged. We headed to a really nice Vietnamese restaurant where we paid for dinner and a movie ($26 for the two of us) and then we went upstairs for the movie. Tarantino's re-packaged Grindhouse segment: Deathproof was on the menu and though I had already seen it, it was certainly worth seeing again. I'm not entirely sure that the Korean audience really "got" the nods to Grindhouse cinema (grainy film-stock, blurred images, repeating dialogue etc.) but it was great to see one guy stand-up, arms in the air in protest, as the movie came to its surprise sudden ending and the credits rolled. Classic.

What was even more classic that than was the "Love Combo" - a large popcorn, and two drinks for only $6. Not bad at all. Then it was goodbye to our friends, and hello to the subway back home. We actually missed our last bus after chasing after it for about 20 seconds. But after watching Steph sit sadly and forlornly at the bus stop, we decided to cab it afterall. A tiring day - but a memorable one.

This Saturday, we will be heading into Seoul with some of the new teachers and I'm sure there will be lots of photos to show you then too.
Okay, that was a long one too, but if these first entries seem a bit like a chronological journal entry, it's because I want to remember what we did. I'm not keeping a regular journal here. This is a way for me too share my memory, and hopefully hold onto it at the same time. It's also almost therapeutic knowing that someone, somewhere is reading this. A little Korean pick-me-up in the morning. I would promise that one day these entries will be shorter, but that might not happen for a while.