Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spring has Sprung in Korea

Strawberries. I feel this is a necessary thing to blog about because it has become such a part of my life in the last few weeks. I was shying away from buying strawberries in Korea for 2 reasons. First because they were pretty expensive and secondly because they were so bright and big and perfect looking they looked fake, or at least genetically modified. I ended up trying one at school and sank my teeth into possibly the tastiest fruit I've ever tried. I am now hooked. My fridge has a constant supply of them and I think I've uttered the sentence 'They MUST be injected with sugar', about a million times already (that was for you Garry!) They're that good. The best part is, apparently in the summer they get even better. Right now these are 'winter strawberries'. And they all are grown right here in K-Town, in green houses and are even exported to other countries. Absolutely amazing.

My girlfriend has even found a strawberry festival going on at the beginning of April that we're going to. Some of the bizarre events we can take part in there are making clay strawberries, sampling strawberry hot sauce and rice cakes, a strawberry sketch contest, and obviously picking and eating strawberries till your heart's content! Cannot wait.

The temperature in Korea has been hovering around 10 degrees celsius this week and it feels glorious. As happy as I am to have missed out on a Canadian snowy, slushy icey winter, it has still been really cold the past few months here. I also keep hearing stories of how long and cold last winter was in Korea. I have kept the faith though that this isn't just a tease and I have hung my winter jacket up for good. I have looked at the forecast for my mini-break in Busan this weekend and it is supposed to be a wet but mild 17 degrees, I've almost forgotten what that feels like that. (Side Note: Janelle I miss living with someone who cares as much about the weather as I do... there is no one to talk about it with all the way over here in Korea. *sigh* it's the little things).

Because this week is still Spring Camp, not regular school I have been leaving early afternoon and walking home. I usually take the bus, but have been really enjoying the warm 45 minute stroll back into the city centre where I live. There isn't a trace of snow around and I know any day know green things are going to start sprouting out of the ground.

Another warm and happy feeling is going swimming :) It has been years since my lifeguarding days and swimming lengths, and it feels so nice to be back in the water. The Osan sports complex is really nice and going there lends to the feeling that warmer weather is on its way.

Tomorrow night is my staff dinner and I am a little scared there will be alcohol and karaoke involved and as the token foreigner I am sure I will be targeted. Hopefully more fun stories to come. Then Friday is here and off to Busan for the weekend. A new place to explore, watch out Busan, here we come!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Jimjilbang Sundays

February has been a fun and busy month. According to the lunar calendar, we just started a new year - The Year of the Rabbit. Happy New Year to all, saehae bok man-hi ba-deu saeyo. Seolnal is the most important holiday in Korea and is usually celebrated by spending the 3 day affair with family. There are traditional dishes served for new year celebrations and people wear Hanbok, which is the beautiful traditional Korean dress. A typical gift people give to celebrate Seolnal is Spam. Not the kind that you receive electronically but the kind made up of a variety of mystery meats, which is ever so popular here. On a regular day Spam gets its own aisle in the grocery store, but leading up to Seolnal it was designated to practically the whole front of the store, on top of its regular stomping ground. It was amazing. Lotte Mart (big Korean chain store) employees were decked out in Hanbok and gift wrapping package after package of spam, olive oils and other festive treats.

Enough about New Years for now. I went away on a 5 day mini break but we did so much over the holiday it is taking me forever to blog about it. Because I was getting behind on my regular blogs, I thought I'd switch things up out of order and post now, and then eventually get around to publishing the New Year adventures. Sometimes it's nice to to look at things in an unexpected sequence.

It seems a lot of people are coming and going in Osan. The new academic year starts in Korea on March 2nd, so a lot of teachers are finishing their contracts. Out with the old and in with the new, I suppose. This is one of the downfalls of living as a contracted teacher. Friends are always coming and going, and we all come from different parts of the globe so there is no guarantee to see anyone again. I guess it's all part of the package we signed up for.  A bonus to this, selfishly, is that my collection of 'stuff' is growing. I now have a bike for myself and for Garry when he gets here, my kitchen is slowly coming up to par with a few more dishes and glasses and the exciting addition of a toaster oven! A Canadian girl in my apartment has left with the intention of coming back in a few months for a new contract so I have scored lots of her stuff. Add in the beautiful Bonsai tree Joanna sent me, a growing collection of books on my shelf and maybe some new pieces of clothing here and there (!) and my little apartment is really starting to feel like home.  It's amazing what I can do with such a little space to really make it feel like my own. The only thing that's missing is a certain someone, and then I'll feel like everything has lined up exactly where I want it to be. 

On the website for KOCIS, Korean Culture and Information Services, there is an opportunity be part of a project called the KOREA BLOG, as well as a contest to submit photos containing the word Korea in an interesting way. I spent an afternoon wandering around Osan looking for Korea eye candy but came out with nothing so I decided to do my own. These were my 2 entries. As for the blog part of it, I find out this week and am 'holding thumbs' I get an opportunity to take part. (Note: Holding thumbs is the South African version of 'fingers crossed'. I find random cultural bits like this so amusing!!!)

Yesterday was Jimjilbang Sunday. Such a great way to kill a few hours and rejuvenate the body. I woke up and met my girlfriend for a coffee and off we headed. I think I've mentioned jimjilbangs in my blog before. But for those who aren't faithful readers (um, why aren't you?) or don't live in Korea, a jimjilbang is a wonderfully unique korean experience. It is a public bathhouse with a huge variety of things to entertain oneself (the top of my list is people watching). You can use it as a crash pad over night, some have hairdresser facilities, computer rooms, snack bars and huge common tv/lounge areas. But the best part is the bath and saunas. The one is Osan has 3 different unisex saunas of varying degrees of BOILING HOT! Then on the female floor (the place is huge, as they tend to be) there is a selection of hot and cold jacuzzis, communal shower  areas and my favorite part - massage tables for body scrubs. 

It being Sunday, the place was packed yesterday. When you come into the bath house you are given a baggy pair of pink shorts and a tee as your uniform, but obviously in the bath part everyone is naked. Koreans stare at foreigners clothed and naked it's even more intense. But I'm over it, sometimes I stare back too. It's so liberating strutting about and such a treat to hop from bath to bath. My girlfriend even ran into a few of her elementary school students, and after the initial shock of a naked greeting, it is so part of their life here they were just thrilled to see their 'Jenna Teacher' outside of school. Some of the bathes are hot, one was frigid, and some have added minerals like jade to make them even healthier (the jade makes the tub green and there is another tub that is purple but I am not sure what's added to it to make it that colour). We had to lounge in the bathes for ages waiting for the scrub, but once we got there it was well worth the wait. The women scrape you down to a level that is borderline painful for almost 45 minutes and they get every single inch of your body, really, every nook and cranny is attended to. It's so amazingly bizarre  but completely part of their day to day lives here to go to the jimjilbang. It is actually pretty spectacular when you see 3 generations of women all together, washing, chatting, just doing there thing, or a group of gossipy old ladies, or even little kiddies just mucking about.  

So that was yesterday and today I feel like I weigh a few pounds lighter after shedding some layers and am as smooth as a baby's bottom from tip to toe! It is definitely becoming part of my routine in Korea. Did I mention it only costs 7000 won (about $6.5) to get into a jimjilbang, and you could stay all weekend if you felt the urge. The scrubs are an extra 15 but a few hours spent like that at home would probably cost closer to $150, than 15. Amazing places. 

Today was Day 3 of English Spring Camp and it was easy peasy. Only 5 days left to go, but after 5 weeks of Winter Camp I feel like I am an old hand at this. I had a lovely dinner of galbi, and am now just about ready to tuck in and call it a night. I have a busy week ahead, with plans almost every night and then I'm headed to Busan for the weekend. I can't wait for Busan. Three of us are headed to the complete opposite end of the country for a Shark Dive! Oh Korea, how you excite me.... so much to do and so much to see!