Posted by: C. Cali Martin | December 26, 2010

What happened to Fall?

All right all right. I haven’t updated since I started my new job (sincere apologies), and now 2010 is almost over so I’ve gotta send y’all something – just a short recap of the last 4 months (which seem to have just disappeared).

1) I love my job. I have the BEST. JOB. EVER. Don’t believe me? I work 5 hours a day teaching the most incredible adult students you could imagine. Most are university students, but others are middle-aged with careers, some are nearly retired – all have a passion for learning English. Their desires fuel me to be better everyday. Isn’t that something everyone wants in a job?  I have a great apartment  located right on campus, and I am able to use campus facilities because I’m a teacher (faculty-priced health club, fitness classes, library, etc.) and that little card with my name on it that says “visiting professor”? Oh yeah – opens a lot of doors. I can drink with my students, I can talk about booze and boobs with my students, they tell me SO much about Korean culture that my brain can’t possibly contain all that information (on a side note, prepare for a lesson on Korean educational culture). I have made some great friends out of my students. Plus, I get vacation every 7 weeks, sometimes over 2 weeks of vacation. So, I ask you, what is NOT to love about this job? I am one lucky gal.

2) China. In October during my first vacation period, I went to Beijing and Xian, China to escape the Korean life for a week and explore Chinese history up close. My expectations going in were a little low (because really, expectations are crap) – I knew China’s population would literally suffocate me if I wasn’t careful (same with pollution); I am still a naive traveler, so I’d best be on alert for pick-pockets and swindlers; and I was fully prepared to be lost at all times. Luckily, it was only the pollution and people that I had underestimated. It was as if I couldn’t breath. I’m not sure whether that was due to the pollution or vast amounts of people, but it was unnerving and exhausting. Highlights of the trip were definitely the Great Wall of China, the Summer Palace, and the Terracotta Warriors. I’ve been there – I’ve done that. It was indeed the most exhausting and hectic vacation I have ever spent, but I’m beyond happy at the experience of a city whose size I can’t even fathom and the experience of history first-hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) Yoga retreat with Ayurveda Yoga Academy. For the weekend, we went to Muju in the Jeolla Province. Let me just preface this by saying that I am not a yoga person. My brother’s fiance has tried for years to get me into the yoga classroom, and only once or twice did she succeed. Since coming to Korea, I’ve been so much more open about trying new things, so I have attended a few yoga classes, but none very regularly. I saw this retreat as an opportunity to gain new experience away from the typical yoga classroom – and I am so glad I did. During the weekend, my fellow yogis and I shacked up in a cabin near the top of a mountain – it was fall, so the views and colors were spectacular. We practiced different types of yoga (hatha, partner, ashtanga), meditation (Nadabrahma, Kundalini, Vipassana), and breathing techniques. Since I am new to yogic tradition, this weekend served as a crash course in all things yoga. I felt such a sense of unity, lightness, and control – it was addictive. I was lucky to be able to take away so many things from this weekend that you could describe my fervor as “passion”.

4) The worst part about living in a country where all your friends are from different countries, states, and cultures (and thereby are all awesome) is that they are all rather temporarily your friends. That is to say that they may still be your friends when they (or you) leave, but they are only ever in your presence for a short time. This fall has been horrific – every weekend we’re saying goodbye to great friends we’ve made and hope to one day see again (but…). So it would seem I have a lot of places to stay around the world when I leave here.

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Posted by: C. Cali Martin | September 7, 2010

Flash Forward

Since my last post in March, I have actually began many blogs. Unfortunately, they have all been unfinished, uncharacteristic, and thus, unpublished. There have been many ups and downs, ins and outs, and beginnings and ends since March and I’d like to share a quick recap:

April 2010: Boracay, Philippines

May 2010: My 24th birthday

24th birthday in Jisan

June 2010: Jeju Island

At Jeju Love Land

July 2010: Gangwando and Jisan Valley Rock Festival in Seoul

Me, Ann, and Sarah at the Jisan Valley Rock Festival

August 2010: First year complete! End of Avalon FOREVER + Pensacola, Florida, U.S.A. to visit family/friends

My students and I with our "Avalon sucks" faces

My brother and I on La Chua trail in Gainesville

September 2010: New job with Kyungpook National University and the beginning of a brand new year.

The score stands thus far: Korea – 146, Cali – 12. Commence Korea, Round 2!

Posted by: C. Cali Martin | March 15, 2010

Some More Shit I Have Learned in Korea…

Another two months have passed, making the grand-total of months-stayed-in-Korea to 7!  Yippee! I’ve lately been having some homesick I-just-want-to-go-home moments, but I think they may have passed (thankfully). The winter is thawing nicely, I have found a dance studio with English-speaking dance classes, and I have some group excursions planned for the next couple of months. Soon to come will be a recap of a cherry blossom festival in Gyeongju and a bull fighting/wine tasting adventure in Cheongdo. I am becoming increasingly unmotivated to complete assignments for my grad studies; however, I’m hoping all these activities will boost my love of Korea as well as my love for education.

Lunar New Year at Haeundae Beach, Busan

Here are some more fun and interesting tidbits about Korean culture I have managed to accumulate:

  • Koreans do not have the superstition of habitually saying “Bless you” after you sneeze, or any equivalent.
  • If you wish to use the restroom in a public location, make sure you grab toilet paper outside the stalls before heading in – otherwise, drip dry.
  • If you do remember to unroll some TP, never flush it. There will always be a small tin trashcan for all things paper near the toilet. Also, you may luck in to a heated seated complete with bidet (three different settings!), and who knows what else that thing does…
  • Of course, tipping is obsolete in Korea.
  • When going up and down the stairs at any location, signs on the stairs tell its steppers to go up on the right side, and down on the left, when in fact, no such organization exists. It is typically the other way around, which baffles my mind.
  • Westerners are indeed freak shows. Imagine walking down the street in America (or any Western country), pointing to some other ethnicity other than your own, and laughing hysterically while aggressively pointing and yelling “OMG foreigner!!!!” Yes, this happens in Korea. All you can do is laugh… although sometimes the kids will bow at you in the street signaling respect.
  • For such a group-oriented country (going back to Confucian roots here), Korean people appear quite cut-throat. They park anywhere along the street – it doesn’t matter if the street is in fact an alley and will allow a passing car with only half an inch to spare. Getting service at public establishments, i.e. the post office, bank, grocery store, etc., is merely a first-come-first-serve basis, although they do have tickets with numbers to be called orderly… confusing.
  • Along these same lines is the odd vision I had recently at the Korean National Museum (absolutely amazing, BTW). For a country that cannot queue to save their lives, their citizens were lined up along the exhibits inside the museum! Literally, queuing to pass glassed-in exhibits. I’d never see anything like it in my life. They can’t queue at the grocery store or get on the bus, but by God, they queue like lives depended on it to see a museum’s exhibits! Absolutely fascinating…. (The museum was incredible, although I was slightly disappointed by the lack of English (or Japanese) signage for a National Museum in the nation’s capital. We saw a traveling exhibit on the Incan culture, and then the history of Korea through artifacts. Some of the exhibits were truly unique. I found it so interesting that their traditional culture of artifacts and development of technology was so similar to America’s, only a little earlier….. something to think about!)
  • After my first experience at a Korean sauna (or jjimjilbang), I have learned even further that Westerners are indeed fascinating creatures for Korean women – and that Korean women’s preference for “hair down there” is drastically opposite from the Western perspective. Rather than neatly trimmed, we were abashed to notice afroes, bushes, knee-length locks dangling from the most secret of areas. Oh my.
  • Finally, Korea has no official religion that I can determine. According to statistics from 2005, only approximately 30% of Koreans are Christian, approximately 22% are Buddhist, with declining populations of Catholics and miscellaneous Protestants. As you can see the vast majority (approximately 48%) are of an undeclared – if any – faith. Contrary to this however, I have been bombarded by old church ladies at my home, in the street, and have seen Bible-beaters on the street corners (ever-present in Pensacola). It is interesting coming to a country that outwardly seems to irreligious, especially after growing up in the Bible belt in America.

All in all, my Korean experience has been one of wonderment and confusion muddled with behaviors in complete opposition to my own Western views. I have to say I delightfully participate in most of these activities myself now after being here for 7 months (although I admit, some of these I was doing since day…4?). I love being a part of a new culture that astounds me and confuses me daily – it is refreshing to conclude that I may never be bored here; a routine will never allow itself to manifest; and I will enjoy learning new things about this culture at every turn. I will be glad to return home after my 12 months here; however, for now, I can simply savor Korean culture and sometimes, its irrationality.

@ the Korean National Museum in Seoul

Posted by: C. Cali Martin | January 21, 2010

Shit I Have Learned in Korea

After being in “Dynamic Korea” (just one of Korea’s many comical slogans) for 5 months, my perspective is starting to shift. The newness has worn off for the most part; however, I find that I can now focus on Korean culture more in-depth. It was not my intention to come here as an anthropologist. Unfortunately, that is where my training and interests lie, so it would be pointless to fight my natural instincts. As such, I have begun paying more attention to the minute details and finer aspects of Korean culture. I’ve compiled a list of such things, and will enumerate them below in no particular order. As a disclaimer, I’d like to say that these generalities do not, of course, categorize every Korean. On the other hand, the focus of Korean culture is on the whole and not the individual like America, so generalities cover a much wider percentage of people. Here, let me teach you somethin’:

  • Korean Education: Students study the majority of the time (as they should) to pass tests. Their main goal at school is to be best in their class. Once they reach their third (and final) year of high school, they take an exam which basically decides where they will go to college (su-noon). If they get a mediocre score, they will go to a mediocre college. Pretty much every Korean student dreams of getting into 1 of the country’s top 3 colleges (Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University, collectively called “SKY”). Kids freak out over this exam (and with due cause) – it is not unheard of for students to commit suicide based on either their grade or as a result of the stress and pressure before the exam. Some students may take it 3-4 times before accepting their low score and moving on. More on Korean college entrance exams: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/GK30Dg01.html
  • Healthcare: Korean healthcare so far has been pretty handy – and exceptionally efficient. Going to the doctor is quick, often taking half an hour if you have an appointment. Pharmacies are a convenient way to get anything you may need and are on every street corner. Medicine and doctors’ visits are relatively inexpensive (although I do have insurance). The cost of 8 days’ antibiotics, congestants (don’t ask), anti-histamines, and pain killers totaled a whopping 9,000w (less than $9 US).
  • Queuing: Koreans do not queue. Getting onto public transportation or an elevator could easily turn into a shove-or-be-shoved, first-come-first-served, all out brawl if the conditions were right. When it comes to things Westerners would normally queue for, the bank, the post office, etc., Koreans have adopted the old take-a-number strategy. It’s amazing to me how often this does not work. It may be your number that is called next on the screen, but another person will already be standing at the counter and more often than not, be served before you. If you can assert yourself well enough, you often get service when your number is called – but be quick! The same technique applies to the grocery store or mart ’round the corner: people who should logically be served after you will set their items on the counter as if you don’t exist.
  • Personal Space: Forget it. Does not exist. If you think you have a bubble, any bubble whatsoever, you are wrong. You are always wrong. Bubbles do not exist. Even if you are a weird, smelly foreigner, your bubble will be invaded at all times. It’s not that Koreans are rude, they are just ruthless.
  • Sidewalk Dancing: In America, if we were to pass someone on the sidewalk, we generally pass as we do in our vehicles – over our left shoulder. In Korea, the opposite appears true. Now, I have done some social experimenting with this theory. If I go out of my way to pass on the left, I can see a sort of mental breakdown happening in the Korean I’m passing. There is a moment of hesitation, a fearful look may briefly cross his/her face, and in a couple cases, the individual will actually swiftly change places so as to pass on the right. I can never remember to pass on the left, so there is, in fact, quite a lot of sidewalk dancing.
  • Addiction: It has crossed my mind that the vast majority of adult Korean men are alcoholics. The proliferation of men drinking after work and remaining insanely pissed from 6pm until 6am is astonishing. The amount of vomit in the alleys and the main streets on a Saturday or Sunday morning is appalling. The catch is that these individuals will never admit to having a drinking problem, or even consider that their habits were unusual. Students who may be legitimately classified as addicted to games in America would never be counseled in Korea – there would never be a question of addiction. The Korean mentality is such that individuals will consider their “extreme” habits as just that – extreme. That there is a problem is inconceivable. Mental healthcare facilities are nearly nonexistent and certainly not as developed as Western mental institutions. Depression is not acknowledged; illness must be severe for a doctor’s visit. Fascinating.
  • Fan Death: This is my most favorite topic of Korean culture. How it works: If a fan (a household electrical fan) is turned on while an individual is in a room where all the windows and doors are solidly closed, then that individual will die. This happens while one is asleep. Why this happens: The oxygen is sucked from the room and one suffocates. Uses in popular culture: This is a convenient way to glaze over suicides by children/teenagers as a result of the enormous pressure of schoolwork. Many Koreans actually believe this myth to be true and will unknowingly open a window or door if a fan is operating….
  • Love Motels and Infidelity: In Korea, divorce is very much discouraged and frowned upon. As a result, many men (and some women) in unhappy marriages resort to cheating. This is more publicly accepted than divorce. Love Motels are dotted throughout the cities and even on the outskirts of towns. I have yet to stay in one, but I’ve heard stories… some include boxes/bags of “goodies”, vibrating beds, sewing kits passed out to women and condoms given to men, etc. Prostitution is also fairly common – the slickest way to find a lady of the night is to book a room in a Noraebang ( a “song room”, Karaoke room) and ask the attendant for a “service”. These ladies come to entertain their clients by helping them drink, drinking with the men, and singing songs. If you luck out, your lady will also service you in any way you like.
  • Kimchi and AIDS: Recent research has been published to suggest that Kimchi cures AIDS. Yes. Kimchi. Cures. AIDS.
  • Driving/Walking: Koreans drive insanely fast, weaving in and out of traffic, and potentially nauseating their passengers. Because the majority of my traveling takes place using my own two feet, I have learned to recognize certain dangers: an approaching moped or car, learning to predict where they will turn, calculating the distance between the opposite side of the road, my position, and how fast a car is approaching, etc. All these things turn into second nature after a few months, although I have been in some serious traffic-related incidents, usually involving being surprised by a vehicle and narrowly missing a “Big Daddy”esque lawsuit (remember, the foot?).
Posted by: C. Cali Martin | November 22, 2009

Let’s Take It Back Now Y’all

After some conversations with a few people from back home, I have come to realization that I haven’t precisely and candidly explained what the hell I’m doing in Korea. This post will attempt to remedy that situation.

I came to Korea in order to set a few things straight: my life, my finances, and my experiences (or lack thereof). I also came to travel. It was my hope that during my tenure in South Korea I would be able to take week-long vacations to other exotic nations; however, my limited number of vacation days will surely prevent that. Quite unfortunate, yet only a stumbling block. I have already planned my post-Korea traveling excursions. While I’m in Korea, I’m living in studio apartment where my bathroom and washing machine (and drying rack) are situated outside in what I call my “Panda Veranda” – silly name, long story. It’s an enclosed area, but not connected to the heating/air, so it’s essentially an enclosed patio (or “hallway”). I have a teeny tiny kitchen and a small living space not suitable for company, really. I have a desk where I can accomplish my homework and a small table with a TV (not that it ever gets turned on).

I work at a private school called Avalon English Academy where I teach children Korean-aged 12-14 (11-13 Western-aged). I work from 3 in the afternoon until 11 at night. Some of you may be thinking, “how can kids get out of school at 11PM?!” Well, if you don’t know anything about Korean culture, that is most legitimate question. In Korea, education is stressed much more strongly than in America – perhaps why we stereotype that Asian kids are smarter? They are little machines! They get up around 6AM to be to school at 7 (public school/regular school) where they have around 12 subjects. After their regular school, most students attend anywhere between 1 -6 other hagwons. Math, science, Japanese, Chinese, English, music lessons, etc. are taught in private academies after school. I think most hagwons close at 11PM, but there are still students running around the streets and on and off buses until much later (maybe as late as 1 or 2AM). In Daegu, this is not unusual. It is said to be the safest city in the entire country, although most of South Korea is incredibly safe. Children are taught to be independent at a very young age (I have seen 2-3 year olds on the elevator by themselves in the building where I work who functionally get on the elevator, push the correct button, and get off on the correct floor). It is absolutely amazing! The students also have massive piles of homework they much complete for each class, and I have from time to time excused children for homework, let one or two sleep in class, or not assigned homework for the next week. These students work extremely hard and are very dedicated to their studying; conversely, these students are taught to be automatons to the system and only obey what their parents/teachers say. There is no room creativity in schools – even their art classes are structured so that they all draw the same (from what I understand from the students). I imagine it is a very difficult lifestyle they lead; which brings me to the dreaded “Fan Death”. Koreans use this cause of death as a way to legitimize suicide in children/teenagers so as not to draw public scrutiny or make their country look bad. Students must pass rigorous exams throughout their life to be successful in adulthood. If students do not do well on their exams or have merely lost the will to go on, suicide is the alternative many students will take. “Fan Death” covers up that ugly motive. Now, what exactly is “Fan Death” you say? If there is a fan turned on in a room with no windows or doors open, it is said that the fan will suck the oxygen from the room and kill the occupant. Many Koreans believe this and will not shut doors or windows if there is a fan on in a room. This does not count for air conditioning units, but just ordinary fans. Bizarre…

I never thought I would love teaching middle school kids so much. I know elementary would have been too much of handful (and from the stories I hear, I made the right choice), but I absolutely love my job. There are quirks, sure, and some days are better than others, but all in all, I feel like I’m definitely in the right place at the right time. On the weekends, my coworkers and I make a whole day of shopping and eating Western food downtown; at night, we prowl the Korean alleys for bars and clubs drunk on Cass, drink-in-a-bag, whiskey, and often, soju. I love what I do, I love where I am, and I only wish everyone could have an experience like mine. 😀

My finished cherry blossom tattoo

Posted by: C. Cali Martin | November 9, 2009

My New Branch & Funeral Ettiquette

Apparently I’ve been in Korea for three months. Sometimes it feels like it’s been longer, sometimes I feel as if I’ve only just arrived. Either way, I love Korea (although Korea quite obviously doesn’t agree with me). Last night’s episode of Mosquito Hunters, Inc. really put a damper on today’s positive attitude. I think that rain has flushed the buggers out of the woodwork… so what I have I done since I blogged last? Good question… nothing. It’s been a relaxed couple of weeks: shopping downtown on Saturday afternoons, a low-key Halloween spent watching “Zombieland” and drinking soju, working the old 3-11 schedule that’s absolutely killing my motivation to do anything but Facebook stalk. There is something I did recently that was noteworthy… oh yes! I now have a gigantic branch from below my right hip to the bottom of my right boob. Yes, yes, might want to mention that.

I’m not really a tattoo kind of person. Okay, yes, I have one enormous purple hibiscus flower on my left foot to cover up a random Japanese character, so I’m up to two tattoos already. Now I can boast of a third – and final – piece of permanent artwork. I had this idea a little while ago, something I’ve been tossing around for a bit, but of course I could never afford this piece back home. There would also be no reason for me to get this back home: I decided to get an Asian watercolor-style cherry blossom branch to represent my Asian adventures. I certainly will never forget this experience, so why not splurge on a once-in-a-lifetime souvenir for myself? Besides, with my expendable income affording this giant branch was a piece of cake. I went last weekend for the first session. It was quite the experience! It was a Sunday afternoon and the tattoo artists (a girl who was designing and a guy who was doing the actual work) had to convene and discuss with me the exact specifics of the tattoo. Where it will be placed, which way it will face, moon/no moon, etc.  We had all worked up quite the a hunger, so Korean Chinese food was ordered. What a fascinating meal! It was Chinese, but every Korean side dish was present (kimchi, pickled radishes, even mandu and tongsil). The only actual “Chinese” food I could discern was the heaping bowl of pasta in front of me: thick spaghetti noodles in a dark brown sauce I swear was chocolate with vegetables and tofu mixed in. It was delicious, although I couldn’t finish the entire bowl – the pseudo-chocolate sauce was a little too much after a while. Fun fact: the eldest person present pays for the meal, while the youngest cleans up afterward. Finally, we got down to business! The first session took about four hours. I had brought a delightful little book with me (“Les Dames aux Camilies” by Alexandre Dumas fils) and nearly finished it during three hours my branch was being shaded. The last hour, however, was definitely the worst. While he drew in the small branches near the top on my ribs, it was all I could do not to cry out! I felt like he had a chisel and was hammered it into my ribs – I felt an intense pain in my bones all through my arms and chest. Oh, what misery! An hour was all I could have handled of that, though I’m sure the coloring of my cherry blossoms will be equally intense if not worse…. masochism at it’s finest.

My Little Korean Souvenir

My Little Korean Souvenir

A Korean co-worker’s father passed away three weeks ago, so I was given the opportunity to attend a Korean funeral. According to the underlying Confucian culture, our department was obliged to attend this man’s funeral although we had never met him. We boarded a bus which took us two hours away to Yeongju where the funeral was to be. When we arrived at the funeral home, we were greeted by mourners decked out in white paper hats and gowns. We parted with our shoes at the door and scuffled to a corner where pictures of the late gentleman were displayed, along with Buddhist statues, incense, and a box for donations for the mourning family. We had to bow (kneel, face to the floor, and upward motion with your hands, back to the kneeling position, stand, repeat) three times to the pictures and statues to pay our respects, then a quarter turn to the family to offer our condolences. Having never been to a Korean funeral and having never practiced Buddhism in any form, this was all new to me. As a result, I looked like an idiot, but made an attempt to look as graceful as possible. After the bowing, we were seated on the floor at a long table where the family served us all manner of Korean goodies (and by “goodies”, I mean “interesting morsels of ‘food'”). All this time in Korea, I have made a valiant effort to be as open-minded as possible; this funeral proved that I have succeeded in that respect and am ready to revert back to my American ways momentarily. There was fresh octopus (very, very raw as I found out), kimchi (soooo good here), itty bitty sardines dried and covered in some kind of sesame sauce (incredibly disgusting), larger sardines coated in nuts (sweet at first, then raunchy as hell), some kind of rice cake make of leaves and herbs (tasted like cardboard and leaves but sticky and dried out your mouth like you’d just eaten fifteen Saltines), a kind of chicken broth with chicken and fish bits (rather good if you soak some rice in it), chunks of fatty pork (not too bad, but you need to pick the bones out of some pieces), and all sort of pickled vegetables, most of which were quite appetizing in comparison to the rest of the feast. Oh, and then the offer of soju and mekju (beer) at 11AM at a funeral. As you can tell, I tried just about everything under the sun at this event and was not strangely repulsed by a majority of what I ate. The Korean teachers eventually began just pointing to things, “eat this”, “try this”, and being afraid to refuse, I did. I managed to swallow all of what I ate, albeit regretfully. I can say, however, that I made an attempt to eat those items, and can politely decline the next go-round.

 

Posted by: C. Cali Martin | October 9, 2009

A Waeguk’s Cultural Ponderings + Our Most Peaceful President

This afternoon, I met one of the Korean teachers for coffee at Starbuck’s near our hagwon. Her English isn’t incredible, but my Korean is total shit, so I can’t judge. We got on the subject of the differences in the educational systems of Korea and the U.S. I commented that if American schoolchildren studied at least half as much as Korean children, no one could contend with America for power – ever. If we had an education system half as productive and efficient as the Korean system (or the culture as educationally-oriented), America would be in a much better position in 20-30 years (in my opinion). She commented that the parents are too strict on their children to study; children only listen to what their parents tell them; they study too much. That’s really a complaint? She stated that the American system was better because we encouraged creativity. Koreans train their children to follow orders – to be robots in society. Conversely, American students play sports; they are creative; they are athletic; they think for themselves. I was astounded by the differing viewpoints – and the points she made, for each has its own merit. Realistically it is true that American children have those opportunities – the flaw is that they take advantage of those liberties. “Creativity” can be to blame for a lot of problems, both inside the classroom and out. However, I cannot but see her point – Korean children are automatons. We have had “incidents” at the school were teachers and students alike have exhibited this on numerous occasions. Is it possible to ever find an effective medium?

On a somewhat similar note: President Obama’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. Exciting! I do not profess to agree with every proclamation ordered by Mr. Obama; however, I think his policies have been, for the most part, reasonable, just, and well-thought-out. I also do not know much about politics and so am ignorant of many aspects of our country’s complex economic and political arenas. Even though I may not know the finer details, I am still aware of the public opinion of America, perhaps moreso than many of you reading this. Believe it or not, a lot of people do not like the U.S.! I hope, by the way, that those of you reading this are already aware of this fact. If this is news to you, please, crawl back into your hole and wait for the Second Coming. We are not the great beloved country we once were. This is not all due to the Bush adminitration, but they definitely helped “America” taste sour in many people’s mouths. President Obama has implored less-than-approachable nations to disban their nuclear weapons programs and terrorist regimes. That’s more than one can say for the Bush years. This way may not be the most productive, however, giving these countries a way out is essentially offering the proverbial olive branch – if they take it, there is potentially one less threat in the world; if they refuse, then we’ll bomb the hell of out them. Making the attempt at diplomacy is more politically savvy than aggressive behavior, is it not? I support the decision to award our President with the Nobel Peace Prize, just as I am proud to be an American. His approaches have drastically improved the way others view Americans – this can be seen in polls and even in day-to-day interactions with non-Americans. Thus, “Congrats, Mr. President. Please keep up the diplomatic endeavors and you will receive support from all across the globe”.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/10/world/10nobel.html?_r=1&hp

 

Also, South Korea and Japan have determined not to extend financial support to North Korea. The country is impoverished due to Communist regime under Kim Jong Il and required assistance – but not until nuclear weapons organizations are disbanded. The two countries will offer a “one time” deal to North Korea for financial support: eliminate the nuclear weapons programs and you will recieve the help you require. North Korea has determined to speak with President Obama and other members in Washington regarding this same issue and will therefore neglect to answer South Korea and Japan’s offer until they have met with officials in Washington. Hopefully both of these meetings with Kim Jong Il and North Korea will result in a favorable outcome for all parties. Negotiations and discourse are the first steps towards success.

Of course, I could always be wrong.

Posted by: C. Cali Martin | October 9, 2009

Chuseok Weekend: Gyeongju

Punhwangsa Pagoda

Punhwangsa Pagoda

Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving holiday honoring the full-moon harvest and ancestors. As a result, we had a three-day weekend (asa!). I recently discovered my best friend’s brother’s fraternity brother’s high school friend (oh yes, I went there) is teaching in Ilsan, a town northwest of Seoul. I’ve met him before three years ago; it was a good weekend, so he decided to come visit Daegu for the weekend. Since we don’t have family here, this was the closest thing to it. For both us, this is the first time we have met someone in Korea whom we have met before in the States (albeit it was a brief weekend three years ago). We had a wonderful time, exploring Jisan, downtown Daegu, and Gyeongju together. It was a very relaxing weekend, but also rather productive. His Korean is exponentially better than mine, so between my knowledge of Daegu and his Korean, we only managed to get lost once.

On Saturday, we took a lazy journey to Gyeongju, which is a small traditional town about an hour southwest of Daegu. We nabbed a map and started off in a random direction just hoping to encounter something on the way. We did, however, make one temple our goal: Punhwangsa. On the way, we meandered quite a bit, though it was a more than pleasant stroll around Gyeongju. The temple itself wasn’t much to sneeze at, but the three-story pagoda was a gem. It was originally built in 834CE as a seven-to-eight-story pagoda, but was destroyed by the Japanese (go figure) in 1915. In the 1980’s, it was restored using the same bricks to build the current three-story pagoda. There are four entrances with four lions posted on each of the corners. All in all, it was a very beautiful pagoda, temple, and environment. We planned to return to the bus station and navigate to a park nearby and grab some of the famous mountain bibimbap, so consulted the map. That bloody map. It was our undoing! After walking the better part of an hour and retracing our steps, my friend works up the courage to ask a Korean family piling into their car. Lo, and behold! This amazing, sweet, kindhearted Korean family offers these disheveled Waeguks a ride to downtown (near the bus station)! I will probably never forget the kindness of this family – it was not the mere act of offering us a ride (I have found that the majority of Koreans are incredibly sweet and helpful), but just the experience in itself. Come to find out, they are not from Gyeongju; Chuseok is a very traditional and special holiday; being foreigners, it’s not always easy to find someone that can help; their attempt at English was so earnest and heartfelt. After dropping us off downtown, we ambled along scavenging for food. Instead of finding the elusive bibimbap we had our hearts set on, we settled for… McDonald’s. Yes. We just chalked it up to Chuseok and the fact that nearly every traditional Korean shop was closed. Oh well – there is always next time!

Beautiful Korean Countryside @ Gyeongju

Beautiful Korean Countryside @ Gyeongju

Sunday, we had a big, late lunch and settled in for a walk around Jisan. After a while, we found a playground in front of a school where my friend played soccer with some little Korean kids. One even had a mullet! Yes, they exist in Korea. Monday, we visited Seomun Market, a traditional market in Daegu. It was just like any Asian outdoor market you could imagine: vendors lined up on both sides of a small alley purveying their wares. There was a food section (millions of dried fish of varying sizes at every stand!), the bedding and linen section (Daegu is known for it’s enormous textile industry), the shoes section, and of course the “name brand clothing” section. Apparently there are no copyright laws in Korea, so it’s certainly possible to find a pair of Adidas track pants for 5,000Won (less than $5). What a deal! We saw Polo shirts, The North Face jackets, Coach bags, and Chuck Taylors (HUGE over here). It was definitely a sight to behold! There was, however, a most disturbing sight: as we were walking down one of alleys, we stumbled upon a few stands that had set up cages full of chickens. In some cages there were easily 10 big chickens in a smallish cage. The worst: one cage held three small puppies… I have a hard time imagining that these poor pups were being sold as food even though the Koreans do still eat dogs. I have been told various stories about dog meat: one is that they only eat dogs that are disabled in some way (mentally retarded, physically disabled, what have you); another is that they sell dogs like this in the markets for food. I am more inclined to believe the first; however, it is not my culture and therefore, I do not understand. All I know is that I was a snap away from buying the little white one as a pet… I am still contemplating it…

Overall, it was a great weekend! Very relaxing, yet productive. The rest of this month will prove to be rather boring, I’m afraid. I have a teacher’s workshop in Seoul Saturday the 17th, but will be spending the next two weeks working on homework due next weekend. Fun. Fun. It’s turning cold, so who really wants to be outside anyway?

Posted by: C. Cali Martin | October 6, 2009

Has it really been 6 weeks already?

I’ve approached the 6-week mark : Do I get a cookie? 🙂 I can’t believe it’s already been 6 weeks… it seems like half that! Good thing is – I’m absolutely in love with Korea! Although, I must admit, it’s not in love with me. I’ve be wracked with allergies for the last few days and there’s no end in sight. Also, the food loves me a little too much. I will finally be getting a gym membership this week to hopefully stop that delectable jaeudopbap from hiding near my hips for the next year… jaeudopbap,  by the way, is an incredible dish of rice (go figure) and spicy pork. And when I say “spicy”, I mean it. Well let’s recap the last couple of weeks…

September 5, some teachers and I made our way to Busan. The boys for a surf competition, my friend and I to see a temple. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple  is probably the most incredible place I’ve ever been in my entire life. The temple building itself was not the amazing part, although seeing a temple that was contructed in 1376 (ok, it was remodeled after in the 1970s) was pretty freakin’ sweet. If you haven’t purused my pics yet, shame on you. The environment where this place was situated was enough to take your breath away. There is no wonder why the Buddhists who built this temple decided to place it here. From a pile of rocks, you could view the great expanse of the East Sea (Sea of Japan), the temple itself hiding among the rocks, great statues tucked away in the trees or between buildings, and looking down, you see the brilliant crashing of waves against rocks the likes of which I’ve never seen before. You could hear the rhythmic beating of water against rock, the quiet murmur of chanting, the glorious smell of sea salt, feel the warmth of the sun against you skin, and a slight breeze to keep you magnificently cool. It really was a perfect day. It was, in a way, spiritual, in that it kind of made you rethink things… personally, nature is more of a god than any one “God”. This was never more apparent than at this incredible place. I would have been perfectly happy to sit there for hours (well, we did for at least two…) and just take in whatever nature had to offer. It was truly an incredible experience.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, Busan, South Korea
After the temple visit, my companion and I met up with our cohorts at Haeundae Beach. Of course it was no Pensacola Beach; however, the sand was welcoming and the site beautiful. There was a hill with houses on it as you looked to the left which appeared almost Mediterranean as the sunset. It was astounding. The water was cool and refreshing. Behind the beach was a cosmopolitan city filled with a mishmash of American cuisine and Korean shops. We went to a couple bars and noted the vast amount of American military men crowding the shops. I learned a new word: waeguk. It means “foreigner”, all of whom seem to be quite the topic of hilarity here. We had arrived via the KTX which is an express that travels the length of South Korea. It took an hour to get from Daegu to Busan (and likewise returning). I think it takes a little less than 2 hours to get from Daegu to Seoul on the KTX (pretty quick considering my express bus trip down was 4 1/2 hours).

Haeundae Beach, Busan, South Korea

Haeundae Beach, Busan, South Korea

In other news, I visited a few places of interest, but nothing extravagant. I went to CostCo (sort of like Sam’s) and stocked up on corndogs, bagels, and cereal. Sweet. E-Mart was another adventure. They’re like Wal-Mart, but Korean style. Found some fun things there: a lamp, a juicer, a coffee mug. You know, real exciting things. 🙂 And I finally went to the underground shopping mall in downtown Daegu. It was quite exciting really. Apparently downtown consists of an above-ground version, and an under-ground version. I have no idea how big the underground mall is – but it’s ridiculously awesome. Shop after shop after shop of anything you could ever want! P.S. If anyone is in want to ANYTHING Hello, Kitty, this is your chance. haha there must have been 15 shops alone dedicated soley to Hello, Kitty merchandise. Insane. Clothes, shoes, hats, toiletries, electronics, anything and everything. There was even a Krispy Kreme down there. They give out free donuts. OMG. I was good.. and didn’t eat anything. Surprisingly. We then found this department store called Kyobo that is literally four stories of a bookstore and holy Jesus was I in Heaven. I mean, if they were all in English… but they did have a small section (about 8 tall shelves), so I defintely had my pick. I found four books to start… and I can’t wait to go back for more. “Virgin Earth” by Phillippa Gregory; “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins; “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson; and “Dracula” (of course). Something for fun, something for learning, something classic, and something… favorite. 🙂 The girl that lives above me reads a lot too, and similiar sorts, so I’ve found a book-sharing buddy! 

Nothing else is new really… working on homework for my MA. Things are going very well here. It still amazes me sometimes that I’m actually here. I don’t think that overwhelming feeling will disappear anytime soon… It’s amazing to wake up at dawn and see out my window the purplish first light of day across the mountains some 5-10 miles away. These mountains surround Daegu, and they’re absolutely beautiful to see out my window everyday. I love being here – and the feeling that things are finally starting to fall into place. I’m quite a lucky girl if I do say so myself. 🙂

Beside the giant golden Buddha at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Beside the giant golden Buddha at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Blog originally posted Sunday, September 20, 2009 on a MySpace Blog.

Posted by: C. Cali Martin | October 6, 2009

A Tentative Plan…

While I’m in Korea and working for Avalon, I will not be able to travel much–except within the country. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to do in Korea, however. Quite the opposite. There is a traditional village, Gyuong Ju (something like that in English), about an hour’s bus ride from Daegu. It takes about an hour and a half (one way) to get to Jeju Island from here (take the bus to Busan, fly a teeny plane to the island). On the KTX (super fast train!), it takes two hours to get to Seoul. There is an ideal place to ski in central South Korea (can’t remember the name), so that’s on my to-do list. And of course, there is always Busan (about 45 minutes away on the KTX and where I’m traveling this weekend!), and all manner of villages with green tea plantations and the like. That’s enough to quench my thirst for travel for a year! I’m not sure even exploring Daegu will get old!

So–what am I planning? Excellent question. I came over here hoping to travel a bit, but seeing as how my scheduling works, I’m only slightly disappointed. I won’t have the time to make short trips to Japan, Vietnam, China, or wherever during my stay. I just wouldn’t get anything out of a two-day journey when half the time I’ll be in the process of getting there. Instead, I’ll be doing my traveling after my year is up! I will have two options of returning home: the school will pay for my flight from Daegu, or I can take the cash. I think I’ll opt for the cash (even though it will, of course, be less than a flight would normally be). Oh well. So what will I do? The plan consists of this thus far: the Trans-Siberian Railway!!!! I’ll be able to catch a ferry from Seoul to Beijing. I’ll spend a couple days there, observing the Chinese way of life; then, off to catch the train! I guess I will technically be taking the Trans-Mongolian line, since I’ll be traveling through Mongolia. The different is in the starting point: whether you go through Siberia or Mongolia. The train out of Beijing goes through Mongolia (for those geographically challenged, as I was prior to my research). The shortest trip is six days–but who wouldn’t want to stop along the way? I found one tour that is 16-18 days, depending on how many days you spend at one place. I can go to the Gobi desert, visit where Ghengis Khan’s campgrounds were, and even stay with a local village for two nights! Of course, I haven’t quite decided on a particular route, or time-span, or anything–BUT THIS WILL BE DONE! It’s pretty much the only thing on my journey I HAVE to do.

After my what-will-be amazing venture through China, Mongolia, and Russia, I will take a couple days in Moscow to explore the city. Then, hopefully, I can board another train to Berlin, where I will (again, hopefully), meet up with my foreign exchange student from 2003, Katja. I’ll spend some more time in Germany (can’t wait!), remembering how to speak German once again (or getting by on broken phrases), and maybe hop over to London for a couple days. You see, the majority of foreign teachers at my school are British, so hopefully I can bum a room for a couple nights in England. 🙂 Again, this is all conjecture – and seeing as how none of my plans ever work the way I imagine, I’m not sure this will happen. I will, however, travel on the Trans-Siberian on my home from Korea. If anyone feels up for a grand adventure on the Orient Express, please do feel welcome to join me!

Blog originally posted Tuesday, Septmeber 1, 2009 on a MySpace Blog.

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