Monday, May 30, 2011

The Korean Folk Village

On a Sunday afternoon with not much planned and the sun shining we headed out in search of the Korean Folk Village. All we had to do was get to Suwon station where a free shuttle planted us right at it's doorstep. I wasn't really sure what to expect but it did come on a recommendation fom a friend. We paid our way in (15,000 won) and then just started wandering. There is plenty to do and see there. We were in the mood for a lazy afternoon so we kept a nice slow pace the whole time. Our first stop was a statue garden which seemed really out of place in a traditonal Korean Folk Village. The garden was beautiful but just seemed pretty contradictory. Most statues were done by international artists and were really modern pieces of art.

Moving on from there we walked through different traditionally built houses, all showcasing different aspects of Korean life and culture. Some had musical performances going on accompanied by traditional Korean dancing. There was a tea house where we stopped for a cup of very over priced and not so nice tasting murky jujube tea. There was an area that was used as a wedding hall and an actual ceremony was staged between a beautiful and very old Korean couple which we got to watch. We got to check out one building showing how the ondol (under the floor) heating systems worked when it was initially invented.

 I think my favorite part of the day was colouring cloth with natural dyes. I bought 2 little handkerchief clothes (1,000 won each) and dipped them into different bowls and made my own patterns. The ajummas running this activity got a kick out of my enthusiasm because most of the people doing this were under the age of ten :) I loved my souvenirs.

Dipping the clothes in natural yellow and red dyes.

The ladies running the show.

The finished product.

There was a mask museum and tons of stalls to buy things from and even a little kids amusement park. There was an area to play traditional Korean games and lots of space to just kick back under a tree to relax or do as the Koreans do so well- and picnic.  There were lots of different food options to pick from, along with great snack stuff too. There were animals to check out, and farmed crops to see.  There were handicrafts everywhere, some just to look at, some to participate in and some to buy. I wasn't really expecting much of the folk village but it exceeded my expectations. It was a nice way to discover some of Korea's history and it was nice to just spend the day outside soaking it all in. Here is a small selection of some of the things we did and saw, and also the website address for anyone looking to go.

Tradition ondol floor heating sytem.

Jujube tea.

Tea time to rest our feet.

The Beautiful Bride.
The Handsome Groom
(on the right).

Refueling time in one of the food areas.

Traditional Gaming.

All smiles at the end of the day!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

World DJ Festival, Seoul

After lots of confusion over tickets and prices and payments and plans, finally Friday after work, with bags packed I headed off to the World DJ Festival. I had read about the event and saw pictures from last year, and had some friends who attended and it looked right up my alley. WDF is an electronic music festival featuring talent from around the world. The line up was nothing really to write home about, but the lack of this kind of fun in my life since I came to Korea meant it was one event there was no way I would miss!

I came home from school on Friday and after a quick pitstop at home Garry and I were all suited and booted for a weekend of fun. We treked with all our stuff to Gangnam by bus and stopped for a bite. From Gangnam we started the almost 2 hour subway ride to YangPyeong, keeping our fingers crossed the whole time we were headed the right way. As we got closer to our destination we saw other foreigners and Koreans looking similarly curious with anticipation so we figured we were headed in the right direction. At the last subway stop we headed out and followed a small crowd to the venue. It was pretty impressive, even at 11pm in the dark, I could tell they had a good set up.

Upon arrival, things almost seemed too easy. We didn't have to line up for anything and it was all pretty straight forwatd. The forecast sucked and there was light drizzle so it looked like the masses were saving themselves for Saturday and skipping out on the first nights festivities. After signing in and getting bracelets we headed to the camping zone and picked up our rented equipment. In the dark we managed to find a spot and got ourselves sorted. Garry passed one of the many hurdles I like to throw at him and was able to put up a (Korean!) tent, in the dark and drizzle with almost no trouble at all (insert nod of approval here).

After quickly unpacking and mentally navigating so we knew EXACTLY where to come back to (not easy when almost EVERYONE is using identical rental tents!), we made the move to festival stages. The set up was massive but it almost looked like a ghost town. We wandered around from area to area and sussed out food stalls, drink stalls, toilets.....all the basics. It was after midnight by now and we stumbled across the main electronic stage, with about 40 people bopping about. As luck had it, when we got up close, the DJ playing was basically the only dude I was interested in seeing all weekend, Satoshi Tomiie.
Friday evening ghost town.

Satoshi Tomiie

It was somewhat bitter sweet. It was so cool to see him playing to such an intimate crowd, but at the same time it must've been a bit of a buzz kill to be playing such a great large venue to only a handful of people. Oh well. Garry and I made the best of it and had a blast. We hopped around the grounds and spent most of our time at the drinks stalls gearing up. A few hours later we stumbled our way back to our tent and called it a night.

Just to set the temperature for the entire weekend, this is how I woke up Saturday morning. I had to use the bathroom and with one eye open knew it was going to be a mission. Without moving, I took a few minutes to mentally prepare myself for the excursion (I could tell by the lack of noise it must still be really early Saturday morning). So I slowly sat up and looked to my right, check Garry. Looked to my left....ugh- unidentifiable man that SHOULD NOT be snuggled up next to me in my tent, check. What the.....? I woke Garry with a start and told him, half laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation, but half really just wanting this guy out of my tent. I went for a quick stroll and much to my dismay, came back to 2 people still in my tent. Garry's only sentiments to me were, "Alex, I think he's dead". Honestly, this guy was C-O-M-A-T-O-S-E! I shook him, and called at him, and poked him...nothing. It took me forever, but I finally managed to stir a very still-drunk Irish guy out of my tent. Later in the morning, we met our other Irish neighbours and one of the girls said her friend got up in the middle of the night to pee and just never came back. She thought it was odd, but was sleepy and figured he just crashed with a different friend of theirs. Um, no, he snuggled into our tent. Interesting fellow. (Note: We later spotted him crusing the festival in a head to toe green and yellow fuzzy dragon suit, see below photo.)
Our tent mate

Saturday. Saturday. Saturday. Saturday. Saturday.

Saturday started off very painful, the after effects of a great Friday night. The forecast took a complete 360 and wound up to be a beautiful, blue sky, hot and sunny day. Desperate for food, we crossed the huge bridge to get back into town and found a Dunkin' Donuts (okay truth be told we hailed a taxi, and I was still in my PJ's but we DID find food fast). It was nice to have a look around though cause where we were, you had a view of the mountain, a lovely river, and the city centre. A pretty nice surrounding for a festival.

The Venue, just over the river.

In a taxi, in my jammies, desperate for hangover food.

Part of the day was spent nursing a painful hangover under a tree in the shade. Music started up again at 2pm and people were pouring in. There were different things to do and check out around every corner. There was traditional dancing in costumes, an international section, a silent disco area, food stalls, massage areas, stalls selling things, games to win things and of course the booze tents. (For anyone who doesn't know what a silent disco is, they're incredible! Basically a DJ spins to a crowd where everyone is listening in on headphones. As a onlooker it is so entertaining cause you can feel and see and hear peoples excitement when a good tune comes on without even hearing the song!)


Jenna showed up on the Saturday and even though I was still a little rough from Friday we all perked up. We spent Saturday dancing and drinking and eating and just wandering about people watching. People watching in Toronto amazes me, but doing it in a foreign country just blows my mind. Especially at music festivals. Especially in Korea. People come out of their shells and just go for it. They dress funny, they act funny, they do things that normally wouldn't fly. Perfect example- I have a self diagnosed sun glasses addiction. I find it strange that in Korea, people don't really wear sunglasses very much. However, at the festival.....AT NIGHT, pretty much everyone donned them. It was awesome, sun goes down, shades go on. Most of my enjoyment from the festival was seeing the Koreans let loose. It was such a fun playground of things to see and people to watch. I've tried to pick a few photos but nothing would really do it justice.

Chinese food stall uniform-
wicked white tees saying "ALEXANDRA"
How random? (I scored one)

'Stached Beauties
Sleeping Beauties

Out for the count

My Jenny Bear :)

After Friday's debaucherie, Saturday was a little more tame but still fun. I managed to get a few hours of sleep before the reality of making our way home set in Sunday morning. We woke up to a drunken group of english teachers practically in our tent, it felt like they were so close. This just motivated us to pack it all and get a move on. It was painful but we did it. The tent was put away and returned with sleeping bags and polls and mats in record time. Bags packed (why does it always seem the bag is heavier, with more stuff in it on the way out than it was coming in?), and off we went. Garry had a weekend injury (that's just a whole other story) so we opted for a lazy return home. Instead of changing on the subway line a whole lot and walking and it taking forever, we hopped in a cab. After major miscommunication issues we finally found ourselves back in Gangnam and on a bus back to Osan. Coming home never felt so good.
Rescue Team

World DJ Festival was a mission. We spent a lot of money, we got really dirty, had one official war wound, amongst a few other mishaps, but all in all, it was a great weekend, fun had by all!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Osan Elementary School Sports Day

Tuesday May 3rd was Sports Day at my Osan Elementary School. What a production. I was trying to think if there is something comparable to this at home but haven't been able to come up with anything yet. It is a mixture between a talent show/picnic/family day and track & field event, all mixed into one. At the entrance to our school were little stalls set up selling toys and huge ballons and cotton candy, so this lent a very festival-esque feeling to the grounds.

The event was well under way by about 9am with all the students and their families pouring in.  Each grade had an allotted time for the performance they had been practicing for the past few weeks. The performance was like a dance routine, incorporating ribbons, or symbols and other bells and whistles. Intermittently throughout the day were also relay races with hula hoops, skipping ropes, limbo sticks, and somersault mats. All the students took part in the races and there were even a few for the parents and a teachers race. There was an event to cater to every age group. The best event of the day in my opinion was for the ajummas and ajoshis. Theirs was a fishing event, where they hooked their rods into a goody bag filled with snacks and soju! From afar it looked like they were dipping their rods into a big bin and every cast pulled in a catch. But on closer inspection, at the bottom of the barrel was a little grade 6 boy hooking on their goodie bags, so everyone was a winner. Too sweet.

Another great activity was the warm up. I had a sneak peak at this during practice last week but it was still amazing to see. Our entire school lined up (over a thousand students) in rows. The national warm up song came on, and off they went. There is a 5 minute stretching/warm up routine, taught all through Korea, that everyone knows. It’s some lunges and some bendy things and then some squats. Then it’s a few more stretchy parts, twists and turns, a few jumps and it’s done. So great. And everyone knows it, even the teachers all know it from when they were in school. It was so entertaining to watch.

The weather was great and pretty much everyone at school had a smile from ear to ear. At noon, there was an hour break where all the students huddled up with their families on blankets and mats for a picnic. They took over every square inch of space and nestled in. This is one of the things Koreans do best. When a picnic is in the works, they pull out all the stops. The only limitation was no open flame burners (which is usually pretty standard). Out came jars and bottles and boxes of every food imaginable. Western style picnics are usually compact tote-able style foods, but in Korea, if you eat it at home in the kitchen, you can pack it up for a picnic. It was so lovely to wander around the school and watch all the kids with their families really enjoying the day.

After the lunch break, there were a few more events and some speeches from the principal and other key figures from the community. Eventually it started to wind down. You could see the day was taking its toll and it was almost home time. Again, this is another Korean specialty. Before everyone made a break for it, they all came together to disassemble and clean and put things back in order for the next day of school. All the tents were down, the garbage cleaned up and sorted and the picnics packed up in record time, without a trace of the days activities.  Overall it was a great success! The teachers were happy, the parents were happy and as far as I could tell all the students had a amazing day! 

(Mrs.Kim, my most wonderful coteacher, and I)