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Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.

Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.: April 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Taekwondo, Part 2

Last week I started Taekwondo with Babehoney. The second class was much more difficult than the first, and he now has all of the white belts performing all of the "basic" kicks which somehow include a spinning heel kick and a spinning roundhouse. Not super easy stuff. The master seems to like us though, and the class is a great workout.

Babehoney spent the last week or so not feeling very good, but she seems to feel better today. The bad news is that I seem to not feel so hot today, with a sore throat and so much snot I could start a snot river. Moving half-way around the world means moving into a new environment for bacteria where your immune system isn't quite ready to respond to all the new, um, stimuli. It takes a bit longer to get over colds and such, and we get hit with them more often. I guess it's sort of the same concept of the Columbian exchange, without the same high rate of death.

I got new glasses, which was awesome because getting glasses in Korea is dirt cheap. The eye exam, selection, purchase, and delivery of glasses all happened in about 20 minutes.The rest of our weekend was pretty straightforward. Saturday we went to Costco, and Sunday we went to the movies. We also watched all of the Indiana Jones movies, which was super fun but there weren't any particularly exciting cultural experiences or anything.

That's the news. I'm going to play video games or read or something.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Taekwondo in Korea...or..finding my inner warrior...again.

Before leaving Florida I spent two years learning a Japanese martial art called Taido (Karate). It was really when  I started taking Taido that I felt like I came into my own, became comfortable in my own skin, and learned that I really am in control most of the time. Unfortunately there is no Taido in Korea, but you know what Korea has a whole lot of? Taekwondo! My mom enrolled me in Taekwondo classes when I was getting beat up a lot in middle school, and I'm happy to have the chance to learn it again in the place where it all started.

Babehoney through a connection to a connection ended up having us bump into a nice South African lady, Saffanetta, who is quite the adventurous waygook. She's always going places on weekends and trying new things, so when she posted on our facebook group that she was taking taekwondo we immediately decided to join her. The class is 90% kids, and now there are 3 adults.

Babehoney didn't feel so hot tonight, so she watched from the sideline, but somehow slipped up that I have a brown belt in the Master and the english speaking black belt had me show them "my stuff" and decided that yes, I am indeed good enough to learn taekwondo with the kids (I hope) and that I look very stiff. The very stiff comment has followed me through all of my physical endeavours throughout life, but I was really happy to show off that I could do cartwheels, even one-handed, and keep up with the kids.

Tonight's experience kind of reminded me of Fight Quest and the Human Weapon. As a martial arts nerd, it was really, really cool to get to step into a dojo in the birthplace of the martial art. What a cool, cool feeling. It felt even cooler to be greeted by the master and his his assistants, even though they speak no English (save for one of the black belts) and understand what they were talking about because I have a bit of background with this kind of thing. This is going to turn into a 3 or 4 night-a-week thing for us, and I'm really happy about it.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Scratching the Surface in Seoul

This weekend Carolyn and I went on a really fun excursion with our good Canadian friends from Busan, Pete and Brit. Friday night after work Brit took the KTX from Busan to Dongdaegu Station where we met her and led her back across town to our apartment. We all crashed pretty hard, woke up at about 6:00am and went back to Dongdaegu station to hop on the 8:17am KTX train to Seoul, the largest city in Korea and easily the biggest city I've ever been to in my life. With a population of 10.4 million in the city itself and 20 million when you include the surrounding area, you can only imagine how much the place bustles...but we'll get there in a minute.

The KTX is an amazing train, so far as I'm concerned. I know that there's faster ones in other parts of the world, but moving at 305km/h through very mountainous terrain is absolutely breathtaking, no matter how cool you might already be! The trip to Seoul only took about an hour and 40 minutes total. When we arrived in Seoul it was obvious that we had moved into a major league city, because there were people everywhere, and people FROM everywhere. I had no idea how few foreigners there were in Daegu until we got to Seoul!

At any rate, one really cool thing about Seoul is the amazingly cool architecture. There are many unorthodox looking buildings no matter where you look. I believe the city is even some sort of world heritage site for architecture or something, but I'm not sure why I think that. There are also some very ancient sites, like Gyeongbokgung Palace and others that make an amazing contrast to the ultra modern buildings surrounding them. The architecture was certainly one of my most favorite things about the city.

Carolyn, Brit, and I headed downtown to near Gyeongbokgung Palace to catch the Seoul City Tour bus, as it's a huge city and we had limited time. So we caught the bus and picked up Pete at Seoul Station, then made our way down to Itaewon. Itaewon is the international district, so we had some western food and Turkish ice cream. When approached by a group of American baptist church members who wanted me to go to their church I said "Anio, Anio, Anio, No Englishee." The puzzled looks on their faces were priceless. We also ate at Taco Bell. It was amazing. It was the best taco bell meal you can ever imagine eating. It had the same gastrointestinal effects as a Taco Bell meal in the US, but with a better flavor.

Our next stop was a Traditional Village where we viewed a taekwondo performance and had a traditional Korean medical checkup. I was told that I am a cold body type, completely average for weight and general health, and that I'm too damp on the inside (they could tell by looking at my tongue). They even gave me traditional medicine for free, but I'm going to ask my coteacher what it is before I try it :). I don't really want to sip on tea made from squirrel weiners or seahorse bladder linings or anything. This was a super neat experience, but I'll probably stick with the hospital for now.

The next place to see was Namsan Seoul Tower...a space needle like tower (a bit shorter) strategically placed on the top of a mountain. The view was absolutely amazing, and we were lucky enough to get there in time for the sunset. The city lights of Seoul started to glow as soon as the sun went down, and it became obvious how big the city really is, and how much movement there is around town. Some long exposures that I made from the tower really show off how vibrant and active Seoul is at night. I could have stayed there all night and just watched the city sparkle. What a great viewpoint of one of the world's greatest cities.

We spent most of the next day wandering around Gyeongbokgung Palace. The palace is huge. I found myself wondering if The Forbidden City in Beijing was of a similar size. To think that so long ago this palace was the seat of the Korean government is pretty stunning, because government buildings aren't usually so beautiful. After much walking around the wind started to pick up and the air was filled with cherry blossoms. Somehow I managed to catch a petal, and they say that when you catch a cherry blossom petal as it falls you will be with the one you love forever, so Carolynis securely mine for good :).

After touring the palace for quite a while, we headed back to Seoul station for the long (short) ride back to Daegu. We were sad to bid adieu to Seoul, but happy to return home to our comfortable beds for a good night's rest before going to work this morning. This was a trip to remember, and Seoul is a city that I think we will have to visit many times if we wish to ever dig deeper than the surface. What a great place.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Home Cooking, Korean Style

Tonight we had the awesome experience of having a home cooked feast thanks to Carolyn's coworker Hyemin. Hyemin invited us over to her parents' house for a meal as her parents wanted to meet us. Her father picked us all up near our apartment block at about 6:30 and drove us the short distance over to their apartment. Their apartment is on the 14th floor and has an amazing view of Sangin-dong with a beautiful mountain backdrop.

The menu included bulgogi (by far the best bulgogi I've ever had), kimbap (similar to maki-zushi), fried vegetables, salad (grown on their balcony garden), and pickled radish wraps with various fillings. It was absolutely delicious...mashissoyo even! It reminded me to no small extent of the Anthony Bourdain No Reservations episode where he has dinner with his intern's family in Korea. We talked even though we don't speak the same language, enjoyed incredible food that tasted so full of the pride that it was made with, and got to spend time with a mom and dad. Even though they aren't our mom and dad it was nice to be around them for a bit and feel "under the wing" of a parent for a little while.

After the meal we relaxed on their enormous couch, and took a few pictures. Unfortunately Mr. J isn't in the photo with me because he was taking the picture, but Mrs. J was so cute when she said she wanted to sit next to me "because I'm handsome" that I had to include this photo.

Like any mother, Mrs. J wouldn't let us leave without leftovers to take home, so sitting in my refrigerator are 3 rolls of kimbap, and about a pound of her amazing kimchi. I don't think I've ever had homemade kimchi until tonight, and it is infinitely better than any other kimchi I've ever tasted. It actually tingles when it hits your tongue, and the flavor is just gorgeous. I could not believe how good it was, and with my pound of kimchi I'm going to make kimchi fried rice, kimchi jjigae, and all sorts of good food to munch on.

This was one of the coolest things I've ever done, and I think I'll remember this meal for a very, very long time.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Korean Health Care

One pleasant upside to living in Korea is the health care system, or at least it sure seems that way after my first trip to a doctor. At home I'd go to the doctor, tell them my symptoms, they might listen to me breathe or something, and then I'd go get a prescription filled. When my doctor first sent me for a battery of tests for asthma it took 6 months to make all the appointments and get results, and was very expensive. I had to redo all of those tests. It took about 2 hours and cost about $40 or so. The prescriptions (same ones) I would get filled at home for $90 (crappy insurance plan) cost about $14 to get filled here. I'm amazed at how fast, efficient, and seemingly smart the health care system is here, and I look forward to a day where we might have one just as easy to use at home.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival

sakura sakura
noyama mo sato mo
mi-watasu kagiri
kasumi ka kumo ka
asahi ni niou
sakura sakura
sakura sakura
yayoi no sorawa
mi-watasu kagiri
kasumi ka kumo ka
nioi zo izuru
izaya izaya
mini yukan

This weekend Carolyn and I went to Jinhae, a small naval port west of Busan, for the annual cherry blossom festival. I've always thought of cherry blossoms as a Japanese spectacle, but seeing as Jinhae was a Nihon Kaigun port during the Japanese occupation it only makes sense that the town would be covered with cherry blossoms. We took the saemaul train after work on Friday and arrived in Jinhae at about 10:40pm.

Even under complete darkness it was obvious that the cherry trees were blossoming in a huge way. It was obvious that the town was painted pink with these delicate, beautiful flowers that only stay bloomed for about 10 days before they peacefully float away in the breeze. The festival at night was quite brightly lit, and several people were shooting off fireworks in the night. It was quite active and exciting. After months and months of working to get ourselves to Korea we were finally in a festival that we could absolutely not be at anywhere in the United States.

After stumbling around the festival for a bit we decided to find a place to sleep, and the only place available was a Korean LOVE MOTEL. A love motel is a place you can rent, umm, by the hour. We had luck finding a place to stay, but were amazed by the amenities. The room came complete with a circular shaped bed, a table and chairs (complete with fresh stains...) and a half empty bottle of control lotion, a half empty bottle of "Exciter" lubricant, and a can of bug spray. Classy to the end. After midnight I had the unique experience of listening to a sailor from the navy base (I'm pretty sure an American) get his money's worth from one of the working girls. I was tired enough to sleep until about 8:00am, when we got up, got ready, and headed out to join the festivities.

The first thing we did in the morning was pick our jaws up off of the ground, as the cherry blossoms were out in full force. The streets were all lined with cherry trees, and the weather was gorgeous.

We immediately climbed the "year" stairs, which get their name from the simple fact that there are 365 of them. From the top of these stairs you could see the entire waterfront surrounding Jinhae, and many beautiful blossoms. It was an astounding sight to see, with streaks of pink in and around the city, and covering the sides of the hills and mountains in the distance. You could see into the Sea of Japan, where the distant islets and mountains hung like mysterious clouds on the horizon. What an amazing sight.

Unfortunately ever since the earthquake in Japan a month ago our internet service in Korea has been somewhat unreliable. If you want to see more cherry blossoms you should go to my flickr page where you can see the rest of the day's photos.

We also met up with some friends who teach english in Busan, and after spending the day cruising the festival and sipping on soju we went to a no rae bang (singing room) for some Karaoke action. I might have sung "Toxic" by Britney Spears, among other horrible songs. We finished there at about 3:30am and headed out to grab a bowl of noodles. Hot udon on a cold night is an amazing treat. Then we started looking for a place to sleep. The Motels were all full, unfriendly, or expensive, so we tried to find a jjimjilbang, which we were unsuccessful in locating. Luckily the dude from Busan we were with is a total computer gaming nerd and knows PC bangs pretty well. We pulled into Bobo's PC zone a little after 4:30am and slept in nice comfy chairs until about 7:00am, for the huge fee of 3,000W each. Super cheap. Then we boarded our train for Daegu and headed home.

The festival, the blossoms, and the time we spent with friends were all amazing, and I can't wait to do something like this soon. Very soon. We're going to Seoul this weekend.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Daegu Genius Youth Orchestra

I guess it's time to reminisce a little bit. In middle and high school I played in the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio, and it was a pretty great experience. I remember us sounding very good with an amazing string section and a really strong wind group. It was a lot of fun, and I've somewhat been regretful about not joining the concert tour to Australia in 1999. Because of my experience with YOSA I was excited when the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education (DMOE from now on) said that the Daegu Genius Youth Orchestra would be performing at our mandatory teacher's workshop last night.

I expected that they would be good, but they were astounding. The string sections were perfectly in tune and incredibly precise with their playing. The brass and woodwinds were very strong, and the percussion played perfectly. I found the musical interpretations of some very dynamic music to be very Korean. Everything was controlled. Fortes were not too forte, pianos though were very piano. The YOSA Philharmonic might have been as good, but we were not as precise as these kids. That said, we sounded more like a western orchestra. They played some very cool music from the late classical to contemporary periods, and I had to pick my jaw up off of the floor once they finished. They definitely were the Daegu Genius Youth Orchestra.

That's the big update for today. Tonight we're going to dine at the Happy Cow and have some Yang Nyeom Kalbi Sal. Mmmm mashisoyo!

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bulletstorm...more like Bulletsnore.

So I'm on Act 7 of Bulletstorm and I must say, the game play mechanics are getting old. At first the vulgarity was entertaining and the gameplay mechanics seemed fresh and cool. Now they're very repetitive. I can't wait to replay the game on an HD TV to see what the graphics look like, but at this point I'm essentially bored. I don't know where the plot is going (there doesn't really seem to be much of a plot) and the enemies are just the same old dudes with smaller and smaller patches of glowing skin to shoot so that they blow up. The violence kinda lost it's over-the-top shock value and the double entendres are used up. When will this game end? Probably not soon enough.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Climbing Mt. Apsan

This weekend, Babehoney and I, along with Laotia and a new friend Leeds went to Mt. Apsan park. This park is only about 6 or 8 subway stops from our station, and maybe a half or three-quarter mile walk from the station to the park entrance. Although I wasn't certain how strenuous the hike would be, I packed 2 liters of water, brought my jacket and my large backpack which was big enough for both mine and Babehoney's coats. I've also learned that in Korea you should take toilet paper with you everywhere, as there probably won't be any in public restrooms should you need it.

We got to the park and began our trek upward. The trail went from a very steep, paved trail to a very steep, unpaved trail in a hurry. We stopped for a bit at one of the outdoor gyms where we had fun trying some of the funny fitness equipment. I found that I'm far too big for most of the equipment, so now I have a great excuse to not use it. After our short "break" we continued upwards where the mountain became much more of a vertical affair. As we neared the peak we found a staircase with rope railings and climbed our way to the ridge.

Once we reached the ridge we saw two signs, one pointed to Apsan Jeong Sam, which would be Apsan summit, so we headed in that direction. We found a peak and enjoyed the view for quite a while. I really find it interesting that the view of a verdant valley turns so suddenly into a city cradled in the valley. After a while we noticed that the wind had turned cold, and decided to head down the mountain. We found another trail down and made our way to the valley trail.

The valley trail led us along a lower route to the park entrance, and on the way I was happy that we passed a Buddhist Temple. I'm not sure the name of the temple, but it was quite smaller than the ones we visited on Mt. Palgongsan several weeks ago. It seemed to have people inside doing religious things, so we left them well enough alone and continued back towards the city.

By this point we were all very hungry. At the park entrance we found a place with street food. I tried the chicken on a stick (which I will buy ALL THE TIME now), Babehoney had grilled corn, which was interesting. The corn kernels seemed much more starchy than corn from home, so they were much chewier. Leeds also had the chicken on a stick, and Laotia had a corn dog, which she refused the sugar dip on (good move for her.) This was enough to tide us over until we could find a real meal.

We walked into town and the first restaurant we saw with happy cartoon animals on the window looked like a good enough place to stop. It had a chicken and a pig on the window, and I ordered the "Han ma li" which turned out to be sliced pork that you grill at the table, seaweed soup, kimchi, and vegetables. Not a bad meal. Especially since the four of us split the cost at exactly 5,000 won each. Nothing quite like eating a nice meal for less than $5 US.

We got on the train and Leeds headed the opposite way while the rest of us made our way back to Sangin-dong and Daegok-dong. When we neared our own apartment, Babehoney wanted to try one of the street waffles they sell everywhere here so we got 2 of them. They were really good, and filled with apple butter and whipped cream. We made it home, watched a few episodes of "The Big Bang Theory" and called it a night.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

April Fool's Day in Korea, and a trip to the Beauty Shop

Yesterday was April Fool's Day, but in Korea the kids call it "Lie Day" because they get to tell lies and play tricks and such. It was really kind of cute how good natured and really impressive how organized the kids were. When I went to my first class I noticed that all of the classroom numbers had been changed around, the students in each class were all doing something wrong, like the students had moved all of the desks to point the back of the classroom. In one of my classes the captain stood up and said "attention, bow" and all of the kids screamed at the top of their lungs. In another, a girl stood up to answer a question and instead faked a seizure and started screaming. The kids were hilarious. I'm really impressed by how good natured the whole thing was. No mean pranks at all. Nothing like an American school because it was so a) innocent and b) organized.

Today I went to get my haircut. What an adventure! I got a photo of Seeley Booth from "Bones" from the internet and had it on my iPod to show the hairdresser. I found a beauty shop and had a conversation sort of like this:

Me: (pointing to the photo) "Jeo geo juseyo?"
K-Barber: (grabbing my hair) "blablablablablablablablablablablablablablablablabla ok?"
Me: "Ne, ne chuayo!" (Yes, yes I'd like that) (No, I had no idea what I agreed to)
K-Barber: "Sit-uh"
Me: "Okay"

All of the sudden scissors were flying around my head at an AMAZINGLY fast rate. I'm not an expert on hair or anything, but she was using totally different techniques than American stylists use, and she worked very, very fast. I was honestly feeling a bit as if I might lose a portion of my ear because her blades were moving so fast. After a while her younger male apprentice came back and the following conversation happened:

K-Barber: "blablablablablablablablablablabla shamuh-poo?"
Me: "Ne, ne."
K-Barber: "Go. Go!"

Then the apprentice took me behind a wall and sat me down in this amazingly sophisticated shampoo chair. It electronically reclined and raised my feet like a la-z-boy. Then the shampooing began. Usually the shampoo is quick and easy, but I got a freaking full-on scalp massage. After the shampoo he styled my hair, and took my money. All 8,000W, which is all of maybe $7.50US. Crazy value, and the haircut didn't come out bad at all.

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