Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Busan was a pre-vacation vacation to kick summer holidays off and celebrate Garry's birthday. I had my last day of school on Friday and by early Saturday morning Garry and I were traveling cross country to sunny Busan. After a  month straight of monsoon rains we welcomed a sunny and blue sky forecast. Our friend Jessica, who lives in Busan, was off in Canada, so after a little bit of struggling, we were able to get into her apartment and spend our few days staying there, it was a great set up. Jess lives right on the subway line and a stones throw away from the beach. We opted to stay clear of Haeundai Beach, just like the last time we visited. Instead we hung out on Gwangali Beach, which in my opinion is a much nicer area.
Our 3 days were spent leisurely doing nothing. Saturday night we went out for a nice dinner and drinks for Garry's birthday. Sunday was a beach day of frolicking in the icey water, people watching, munching on goodies and watching the day go by. Sunday night we had yet another epic Busan meal (last time we treated ourselves to king crabs). This time we went for bbq'ed shells. We had clams, and scallops and some other types ranging in size from about a loonie, to bigger than the size of my hand. They had seasoning on them, and sauces to dip in and were so delicious. There was the typical array of side dishes and just cause we were sitting by the ocean we ordered a tray of giant prawns to wash it all down with. Fresh air, seafood, a beautiful environment and good company, it was a perfect recipe for such a nice evening. After dinner, we nipped back to Jessica's and grabbed a bottle of champagne Garry and I had been saving for a special occasion and headed back on the beach to pop it. Perfection. Yum Yum Pop.
Monday morning we woke up and had brunch on a patio at the seafront and it was so stinking hot we actually opted out of the beach. Instead we took a trip to Shinsegae, world's largest department store, and poked around Gucci and Tiffany's and other way out of our league kind of places. It was an impressive mall though and we had lunch overlooking an indoor skating rink, at a much nicer temperature than melting on the beach.
By late Monday night we were back in Osan and now on Wednesday evening my bags are packed and I am ready for the real vacation. BORACAY here I come! Our flight is early tomorrow morning and there is no way to get to the airport for 5:30 am, so we are packing up and heading out to spend the night in  the airport jimjilbang (Garry's first jimjilbang experience!) Should be interesting.
I have some great pics from the trip to Busan so i will post them in a separate post when I get home. Right now, I have a flight to catch!

UPDATE: photos are posted now in a separate blog:

Teachers Overnight Trip to Gangwon Province (강 원 도)

The Teachers :)
After the last class at school on Friday afternoon, all the kids scurried out of school and all the teachers collected their belongings, locked things up and headed on to the big coach bus waiting outside. It took a little while for everyone to board and get the motor running, so before the bus even pulled away from the school the bottles of soju had been opened and poured (not for everyone, just a select few of keeners).
We spent a good few hours traveling from Gyeongi-do 걍 기 도, the province I live in, to Gangwon-do 강 원 도. The weather for the past few weeks has been a varying few shades of rain, thunder storms, torrential rain, and the odd times light rain, and last weekend was no exception. We drove through awful conditions with a driver who I think would match the skills of a Japanese kamikaze pilot.
Upon entering Gangwon-do, the scenery changed to big mountains and valleys with rivers running through. I was told Gangwon province is at a higher elevation than the rest of South Korea and therefore was the last to be inhabited by people and the last to be touched by modern day living. To this day, Gangwon is a farming area, with no big cities and a thriving rural life. For this reason, it is a vacation destination for the rest of Korea. Everything was green and lush and beautiful (and soaking wet).
We originally were headed to Gangwon-do to go white water rafting, which would have been amazing. BUT, it has been raining for a month in Korea so the rivers were overflowing and unsafe to ride down. Our next plan was caving, but again, that was canceled due to the rain. One of the activites we did get to enjoy was rail biking. I had no idea what this was and was actually pleasantly surprised by how fun it was.

Two by two, we hopped on little pedal carts (in the drizzling rain, kitted out in stylish rain gear). The carts ran on old railroad tracks and off we went. Most of it was downhill so not too strenuous, but still fun. The scenery was lovely. We ducked through huge dark tunnels, across rice fields, and between big green mountains. We only biked for maybe an hour, but by then we were sufficiently wet and ready for food.

Back on the bus we drove for what seemed like an eternity before we made it to the mushroom restaurant we had plans for dinner at. Before I came to Korea, mushrooms were not one of my favorite vegetables, but here they are a staple in most meals here, so I have now developed a taste for them. And as I have mentioned before in other posts, most Korean restaurants have some sort of theme or dish they specialize in, and this one was mushrooms. The big group of us sat down to a huge meal of grill your own meats (some of these meats were actually a mystery to me), plenty of fresh and tasty mushrooms, the normal slew of Korean side dishes, and free flowing soju.

We bused to our accommodation and were all put into different rooms of a really quaint motel/guesthouse, called a pension in Korea. I was roomed with Mrs.Kim and 2 other teachers. We were in the Rose Room and everything was pink and it was humongous.

Aside from all the private rooms there was a main guest house. Within minutes of putting our pajamas on and getting ready for bed, we were summoned to the main house (and by summoned I mean FORCED!) These Koreans sure no how to do it up. We had only just finished dinner and as we all congregated, more food and snacks and beer and soju were coming out. There was no shortage in site of food or drink. Everyone started out sitting on the floor in a circle, and as there was no karaoke in the house (to many a disappointed teacher), people started to get up and sing and dance one by one in the middle of the circle. Thankfully my turn to sing never came, though I did have a quick turn on the dance floor with my VP, who oddly kept calling me Dancing Queen (someone pointed out that it had nothing to actually do with my dancing ability or lack there of, but more it's just one of the few english words he knows).

Bit by bit people settled down and formed their own little chatty circles on the ground. It was so amazing to watch. All the people that I see on a professional level on a day to day basis, were now hanging in their jammies getting trashed and bonding. I felt like it was a weekend away up north at the cottage with my friends, not something I could ever picture happening with coworkers at home. And apparently, this kind of work trip is not unique to teachers or schools, it happens all the time with businesses across the board as team building, bonding excursions.  The west could learn from this. Although it was difficult for me to blend into the crowd because of the language barriers, it was really nice to watch how everyone else was so easily able to let their hair down and have fun together.

The next morning, it was raining, for a change. The events of the day ended up starting out with a group breakfast meal. This is one thing I don't think I will ever get used to in Korea. Breakfast is like lunch and dinner, soups, rice, kimchi.... you name it. Such is life though, to each their own. After breakfast (where I must note, I did see a small tray with 2 bottles of soju being served to another table), we waited out the rain a little and then packed back on the bus.

Muddy feet.

Our next 2 destination points were nice, but nothing spectacular. We hiked up a muddy slippery icky gross mountain to see the view of a bend in a river that makes the piece of land look the exact same shape as the Korean peninsula. Hmmm, the view was beautiful from there, but I didn't get the peninsula thing. Next was another pretty look out point we hiked to, this place made popular by the filming of some Korean movie, again, lost on me.

Korean cuteness at its best
(she bit her rice cake into a heart shape ;)
From there we headed into the town of Jeongson for lunch. Lunch was delicious and quick and by this point I think most people were ready to head home and savour the rest of their weekend, I know I was. Little did I know what lay in store...

All the teachers piled back on the bus, and Koreans LOOOOOOOOVe to sleep on subways and buses, so after some exercise and fresh air and good food I was getting snuggled in for a nice nap for the 4 or 5 hour journey home, and, to my ultimate dismay, out comes the karaoke.  I have something VERY un-Korean to admit to the world. And it wasn't until I sat on that bus for those 5 hours that I actually fully admitted it to myself. I DON'T LIKE KARAOKE! There are times in Korea, where I have gone, and I will admit it has been entertaining, but on the whole it's just not my thing. In a room, with lots of alcohol as a buffer, at night, with friends, I can do it no problem. But, on a bus, in the middle of the day, with music at decibels unhealthy for the average persons hearing, and with a sound system that makes that horrible high pitched microphone/speaker noise about every minute and a half, and to top it off with music that is in another language? Ok and not to be really horrible, but the state of the Korean music scene is pretty rough as well, so the calibre of songs coming out was awful. I HATE KARAOKE, and Koreans LOVE it. There I said it. So for 5 long hours my ears bled from the pain of listening to karaoke in a very small enclosed space.
After a long and painful journey we finally arrived back in Osan, hours and hours later. Karaoke aside, the trip was really fun. I love going to new places in this country and seeing new things and that's exactly what we did.

P.S. I forgot to mention, we drove through Pyeongchang, which is where the 2018 winter Olympics will be held, so I can say I have been there.

P.P.S. I haven't actually downloaded photos from the trip yet, so when I do I will update this post.

(UPDATE: photos now added)

Monday, July 11, 2011


This past weekend was the R-16 B-Boy Championships in Seoul. This would have flown totally under, over and around my radar if it wasn't for Garry. He was in the know that Koreans are renowned for their b-boy dancing abilities. Another thing to add to the list of activities that Koreans discover, attempt and quickly excel at. B-boying is a kind of hip hop, break dancing style, but this competition also incorperated popping (or pop and lock) another, different type of dance.
The event was held at Olympic Park, a massive area built back in the late 80's for Seoul's turn to host the 1988 Summer Olympics. The auditorium was huge and was a perfect venue for the event. We had optimal seats over looking the stage, to see all the dancers in their limelight.
The 'R' in R'16 stands for respect, a very important principle in the dancing circuit. The 16 stands for the 16 different countries who participated in the competitions. In the finals there were b-boys from China, Japan, Korea, Kazahkstan, Venezuela, USA, and France. It was a 2 day event and although I was only able to attend the first day, there was still lots to soak in.
Before the event opened there was a "Street Festival" that was a little lacking. It consisted of a few walls of grafitti in the making, which was top notch. But then it faded away into a few random booths just selling tees, and that was it. Luckily the performances of the evening made up for what the street festival lacked.

Grafitti Alley

The event for Saturday night consisted of solo dancers going head to head until a winner was determined. In between competitions was lots of eye candy. Different teams came out to perform and have battles. Even the judges came out to show their stuff as an introduction to the evening. This clip is a battle between Korea's "Pocket" and Venezuelan b-boy "Lil'G".

On top of some quality dancing, we got a little surprise end of the evening action. First off was a beat boxer who was flat out, i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e! His name is krNfx, and he is actually from Toronto (though of Korean decent). He spent about 10 minutes on the stage performing different sound samples, recording them, looping them and them layering them so it sounded like he was doing the job of a singer, musicians, and sound technicians. Very impressive stuff.

The icing on the cake had to have been Jay Park. Who knew we would be privy to a K-Pop concert at the end of it all?  Out he came and according to the reaction of all the ladies, this man is a hit! Women were falling over themselves and shouting and screaming and singing. It was so entertaining! I have no idea who he was, but it sure was awesome to see the reaction of the whole auditorium to him. Koreans love their K-Pop!

Below are some pictures from the first night @ R16 B-Boy Championships, Seoul, SK.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Kendo vs. Kumdo 검 도

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a martial arts tournament in Osan a friend of mine was taking part in. I knew my friend Matt had been practicing martial arts but my level of knowledge pretty much ended there. The form of martial arts he studies in is Kumdo (검 도), or Kendo, as it is originally called in Japan.
Kendo is a modern Japanese martial art, that has been appropiated to fit into Korean culture (and renamed as Kumdo 검 도). The word means 'Way of the Sword'. Kumdo is a sword fighting based activity combining martial arts values with sports like physical elements.
So the impressive part was that not only was he taking part in this tournament, but.... he was also one half of the pair of fighters chosen to perform for the opening ceremony. Did I mention he was the only foreigner participating? In a sea of Korean, he was a sparkling Canadian representing. I couldn't help feeling proud.
It all kicked off at 9am on a Sunday morning which was a little tough to swallow, but I am so glad I was there for it. Matt had his own personal (mostly Canadian based) cheering squad supporting him, along with his fellow Kumdo students.
He rocked the opening ceremomy. There was the typical Korean platform set up with lots of  talk and speeches, rounds of applause and general yawning. From there, Matt and another female student took front and center in the sports auditorium and off they went. For the ceremony they practiced a more traditonal, less aggresive version of Kumdo, amazing and beautiful to watch (not to mention listen to, as Kumdo is a very vocal sport with lots of yelling and battle calls). It was really impressive. I have no idea how, as a foreigner, he scored the honour to kick things off, but kudos to him.
After the ceremony things started of with the kids jabbing and stabbing eachother. Next went the women and then finally the men. A lot of it was lost in translation, and to be honest, I didn't fully understand all the rules of engagement. All I know is that it was really great to watch the sport and made even more fun cause we knew someone taking part. Aside from the early wake up call (and the flat tire I got on my bike riding over there), it was a great Sunday morning. Congrats to Matt for doing such a great job and taking part in it.

Here are some of the photos from the event.

Canada in a sea of Korea

A small portion of the equipment

Opening Ceremony

Matt's Kumdo Match 

Matt flying through the air 

Go Team Canada!