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Friday, May 26, 2006

Who Doesn't Know Prince and U2???
If you guessed 'Brighton,' you win the satisfaction of winning!

American Idol last night:
I thought it was a really good results show. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. They had really good people come and perform with the Idols--Dionne Warwick, Live, Toni Braxton, Meat Loaf, Al Jarreau (although I have to admit to not knowing who he is), Mary J Blige, and Prince. Seriously, Prince. When Elliot came out and started singing U2's 'One,' I said to Brighton, "If Bono comes out, I'll have a heart attack and die." He didn't (Mary J Blige did). But I also made the heart attack and die prediction later on that night for something that DID happen and I did not, in fact, have a heart attack and die...so I guess I'm full of empty health threats. I thought Katharine looked freaked out during her performance with Meat Loaf. Then I noticed how freaky-weird Meat Loaf was acting and understood. Brighton and I both thought that Toni Braxton wasn't really Toni Braxton but a drag queen impersonating Toni Braxton. It was weird. If I have to hear Taylor yell out, "Soul Patrol!" one more time I may jump off my balcony.

I was aghast that Brighton asked me these two questions: 1) What are some Prince songs? and 2) What are some U2 songs? I assured her that she HAS to have heard numerous songs by both artists. I then made her sit down and listen to Prince songs and U2 songs on my iTunes. The only Prince song she knew was "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." 1999? Never heard of it. I mean, I know this is Brighton, but come on! I then started playing U2 songs and the only ones she's heard are some of the more current ones like 'Beautiful Day.' I then said to her, "You have to know 'With or Without You.' If you don't, I will have a heart attack and die." I played the song and she had no recognition of it. Who is she??? Where has she been living the last 20+ years?? A cave?? Don't worry...like I said earlier, I didn't have a heart attack and I didn't die. Hence me being able to write this blog entry.

I just noticed that someone in Iran has read my blog. Weird.

They have this mystery English program at my school called 'Step and Jump.' I call it a mystery because I have no idea how it works and I'm not involved in it (aside from them asking me to write a textbook for it). Anyway, every morning before school they play the 'Step and Jump' song over the loudspeaker. I wish I had a recording of it to post. But I don't. But here are the lyrics:
"English, English, it's easy and fun!
Step and Jump, it's easy and fun!
English, English, we can say it!
Step and Jump, it's easy and fun!

"English, English, it's easy and fun!
Step and Jump, (something I can't make out)
Step to the world;
Jump to the future!
Are you ready for Step and Jump?
Ok...here we go!"


I'm taking a train to Gyeongju after school today. It's about a 4 hour train ride. But we're taking 1st class as there were only 2 seats left when I called to book tickets and they were in 1st class. Travelin' in style, baby. Unfortunately, all train tickets back to Pyeongtaek from Gyeongju were booked...so we have to take a bus back. And if we don't get tickets (you can't buy them beforehand) then I'll be screwed. So here's hoping. It's supposed to rain all weekend, so that blows.

I'm out of my pain medication etc, so now I'm down to popping ibuprofins. They're actually working fairly nicely, though.

I have to teach a class soon.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Imprisoned In Korea
I'm locked in a wall-coffin and hospitalized within days of each other. Crazy.

Maybe I shouldn't be writing a blog update right now because I'm seriously loopy on meds right now (ask Brighton), but hey, I have time. After taking Monday and Tuesday off of work, I went in to school this morning. Maybe it was the combination of waking up early and taking my meds without food, but I was seriously out of it. First thing in the morning I had to go down to the office with my co-teacher to fill out this form because I had been gone. The vice principal who speaks no English got up when I walked in the room and looked seriously happy, then started exclaiming things to me. It was cute. He's old. Old-ish. Then my co-teach explained to them what was wrong with me. Which sounds really stupid and pathetic when you tell people. "Yeah, I was gone for 2 days because I have a strained muscle." People then think of a sore muscle, then next think you're a friggin' pansy. But honestly, it feels like a friggin' knife is being jabbed into my rib cage. My medication always wears off in the middle of the night and it's horrendous. I was laying there for 15 minutes last night breathing all funky and moaning because no matter how I layed the knife was still twisting in my side. I actually felt physically ill. This morning Brighton said she heard me last night and I sounded horrible...she thought I was going to vomit. But anyway...

So I signed the thing in the office and then the vice principal told me to go home that afternoon to rest. I then said, "But I have the special class this afternoon." [The special English class for the smarty-pants kids]. They then say to me, "No, go home. No special class. Rest!" Ok, whatever you say. :) So we go back up to our room. The first class starts. At this point I'm totally out of it. I basically sat there staring the whole time, randomly inserting remarks to the class. The class gets over and my co-teach calls someone on the phone. She hangs up the says to me, "Go to your home." Yeah, I must have looked really pathetic. So I went home. And now I'm home. And watching tv. We downloaded the entire first season of "My Name is Earl" and we've been watching that. It's funny. We're on episode 10. I think.

Anyway, aside from the hospital, here's what Brighton and I have been doing:

On Saturday we went back to Seoul. Our first stop was Soedaemun Prison. This was a prison built by the Japanese when they occupied Korea. They imprisoned and tortured (and killed) Koreans who fought for independence. It's now a sort of museum, ala Alcatraz. Here's one sentence in the brochure: "Our people still bare the suffering of forcible occupaiton by the Japanese. During that period, our self-esteem was dealt a blow, the self-development of our country was suspended, thus marking a painful chapter in our history...We do hope that all people, especially, teenagers who will take charge of Korean future, can learn and cherish the spirit of Korean ancestors who shown blazing patriotism in independence movements." All grammar mistakes not mine. Another reason we went was that I have this guide called "Seoul's Best 100" that has all the places in Seoul you should see. Of this, it says, "...visitors can experience what it was like to be imprisoned and tortured..." Wow! What fun!

It was all right. Nothing amazing. A little over-the-top in the mannequin reenactments and sound effects. And I really didn't get to experience what it was like to be tortured. But maybe that's a good thing. I included some pics. One torture device was a "standing wall coffin" where you had to stand in a coffin-like thing for days. Due to its shape you couldn't rest at all. Apparently, after 3 days you were sure to be paralyzed. I did get to experience this. For a couple of minutes. Also, there's a picture of Brighton getting tried and hung by the Japanese. Damn Japanese. In one area there was a cell with a mannequin of a Japanese guard beating a Korean prisoner. You could see that numerous Korean visitors had hocked a loogie on the Japanese guard's back. Gross.

We then had lunch. We wanted to eat at this Indian restaurant that was in a guidebook, but we couldn't find it. Very annoying. So we ended up eating at Dunkin Donuts. Yummy. Also, Brighton got harrassed and grabbed by a crazy old Korean man. That was weird.

Then we went to Insadong to shop again. I bought a lot of stuff for people. So you may have stuff coming your way. But I will probably wait to deliver it in person because it's a pain and a half to send things. Hey, Joleen. Did you ever send you-know-what to Sarah? Because you should really get on that being as it's been like 4 months now. Arg! :) Here are a few pics of Insadong. One is of a store that sells paintings and fans and stuff. The other is of a bunch of "cool" Korean boys hanging out.

We then went to the Korea House. It's a traditional Korean house (rich person's house). You can have dinner there and then watch a show, but we just went to the show. Beforehand we went to Itaewon for dinner and went to a Mexican restaurant called Pancho's. It was delicious. I had a taco, burrito, and an enchilada. First time I've had Mexican food since coming here (aside from a few home-made tacos that just aren't the same). So that beat the hell out of traditional Korean food. The performance was an hour and we saw about 8 different performances. Musical and dance performances. I got to see people play the gayageum. Well, not crappy like me. And people danced around in hanboks with peonies. And so forth. There were a few shamanistic dances, too. Those were pretty cool. And a fan dance that was neat-o. Here's a picture of us with a few of the performers.

Then we went home.

On Sunday we went to Suwon. We went to Hwaseong Fortress (my 4th time!). But for the first time I visited the palace nearby--Hwaseong Haenggung. It was all right. We got to see a really old tree that is the protector of Suwon. And we saw a martial arts demonstration that was pretty cool. However, Russian tourists were sitting in front of us and made it impossible to get decent pictures. They both constantly had their camera held up and out at arms length in front of them and followed the action. I've never seen anyone take more pictures, not even Mom. It was crazy. And annoying. Did I mention they were Russian? I swear they smelled like vodka. So here is a picture of my favorite martial arts demonstration guy.

I don't know if I ever mentioned this, but Korean couples often dress identically. In public. And it's totally acceptable. I've seen some pretty hilarious examples (including one couple wearing matching jeans and matching black t-shirts with rhinestoned rainbows...seriously). Here's a picture from the Suwon subway station that Brighton was able to snap off. It's their backs, but you get the point. They're wearing the same pants and same North Face t-shirt.

This weekend we're going to Gyeongju. I hope we have nice weather.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Pain, the Pain, Oh the Pain!!!
My first visit to a Korean hospital

So, a couple of weeks ago I had a horrendous cough. My dad can attest to that. I would have coughing fits that would last 5 minutes during which I thought I'd cough up my innards. The cough had subsided substantially, but then on Friday I developed a new and wholly unwanted symptom. I had severe stabbing pain in my left lower chest/rib area when I coughed, sneezed, breathed deeply, layed down, or moved in various other ways. Saturday it was about the same. Sunday it grew worse. I have a lot of trouble sleeping because the pain is so bad when I lay down. Brighton and her mom grew very concerned because my symptoms indictated I could have pneumonia. I thought I might have tuberculosis (a common fear of mine here in SoKo). So on Monday I called in sick and went to a nearby hospital.

I was a bit freaked out because I had no idea what to do. It was pretty confusing. We walked to the hospital (called Good Morning Hospital). I saw a main building labeled "Urgent Care" and another building labeled only in Korean. I didn't think I needed the emergency room, so I went into the other building. I went to the front dest and asked if they spoke English. No, they don't. The lady did get across that I needed to give her my insurance info. So I did. She took that info then told me to sit down. I found it odd that they didn't try to figure out what was wrong with me. Brighton then notices that the rooms down the hallway are labeled things like, "Acupuncture" and "Oriental Medicine." Uhhh, wtf? So we think I'm in the wrong area and the lady just thinks I'm a whitey who wants some acupuncture. So I go back up to the desk with my Lonely Planet language book turned to the health section. I start miming what's wrong with me to the lady...take a deep breath then hold my ribs in pain. I then point to the section in the book called "Alternative Medicine" and say, "Yogio?" (Here?) She nods yes and I make an X with my hands. Then I point to things in the book like, "I have pain in my..." and then to body parts like, "chest, ribs." She then brings out her own Korean/English dictionary and points to "bumped, shoved." I say no. She then points to "Internal Medicine." I just nod yes. I guess...

So she leads us out of that building and into the Urgent Care building, up to the 2nd floor where she drops us off at the info desk. We attempt to explain my problem again (to people who don't speak English). Eventually we get led to a waiting area where we wait for about 40 minutes before realizing that there was an electronic screen with people's names on it telling which room they'll be in and when. I find my name (transcribed in Hangeul) and I see that I'm to be in room 4. I'm number 6 on the list for that room. Like an hour later I finally get called in. The doctor was very nice and spoke pretty good English. He asked some questions then listened to my breathing through a stethescope. He then said he wanted me to get an x-ray because the pain could be caused by many things. I'm then brought back to the info desk where I'm told to pay about $20.00. I had no idea what for...I assumed it was for the 3 minute talk I had with the doctor.

I'm then escorted down to the x-ray area where I had to wait a short time. I get called in and have to change into a robe. Then I get 4 x-rays taken. Then I'm told to go back up to the 2nd floor. So we go back up, get confused as to what to do, but finally just sit back down near where I was before. Not too long later I get called back in to the doctor's room where he's looking at my xray on his computer. He says there's no sign of pneumonia, tuberculosis, or pleuresy. He then says the most common reason for the pain I have in young people is straining of the chest muscles due to excessive coughing. So he then prescribes various medicines such as a cough suppressent, a muscle relaxer, and pain relievers.

I go back to the info desk. They give me a sheet with one of the prescriptions on it to get at the hospital. I pay about $2.10 for it. I get that prescription filled, then get another prescription list. I had to go to the pharmacy across the street to get that one filled (4 other pills). Those cost about $3.00. So I guess the $20 I payed was for the 4 x-rays and the doctor time. The whole ordeal only cost me about $30. Not too shabby. Looking back, I wish I had got a picture of me and the doctor and my chest x-ray, but then again, that may have been embarrassing to ask for. [This x-ray picture is not me...but mine looked very similar to it]

My rib area still hurts like a bitch, however. I think he needs to give me stronger meds. I slept like crap again. I called in sick again today. It honestly feels like my rib is broken. Not pleasant. But at least I don't have TB. Or pneumonia.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

My Feet are O So Weary
But my soul is doing fine

Crikey, I've had a busy week plus. My dad left me yesterday and is currently visiting Joleen in Napa. I heard it took you guys 1.5 hours to find each other at the airport...what up with that? I hope you had a nice visit, Dad...I very much enjoyed having you here. Can't wait until I "visit" you back home in Rochester in 3.5 months. Brighton arrived last Wednesday and will be here another 2 weeks. Busy, busy, busy!

Here is a picture of my dad and I singing in a noraebang...actually, we're fake singing because our time had run out by this point (hence the 'Insert Coin' message on the screen...even though you don't insert a coin anywhere. you just pay the man at the front desk). But anyway, you get the point:

On Friday me, Dad, Brighton, and my friend Colleen stayed at a hotel in Seoul as the next day bright and early we had to be at the Seoul USO office for our trip to the DMZ. I'm not including a lot of pictures of the DMZ because I did a pretty comprehensive job of that the last time I went there with Joleen. So if you're re-interested in it, look back at that post. However, there was one difference this time compared to last time that I was very pleased with. Last time, we could only see a North Korean soldier standing on the stairs of his building pretty far away. This time we got very close views of many North Korean soldiers. They were lined up on their side of the line and were taking pictures of themselves. Which is funny because we are all in the background of their pictures. Haha. A North Korean Commie has a picture of me. So I included a picture of the North Koreans. It was pretty sweet. I also have a picture of a North Korean outpost with a North Korean soldier standing there looking through binoculars. "Hi!"

On Saturday night we (sans Colleen) went to Namsan Tower (Seoul Tower). It's a tall tower in Seoul that gives you a good panaramic view of the city. Pictures don't come out that well. Here's one where you can see the city, but also an overlay of Brighton inside the tower.

On Saturday night we spent another night in Seoul. On Sunday we went to Gyeongbokgung palace, Changdeokgung palace, Insadong, and Namdaemun. Below are pictures of Gyeongbokgung:

Changdeokgung is another palace. Here are pictures from it:

Insadong is a street that has lots of traditional Korean artsy stuff. It's a very cool street. I enjoy it. Namdaemun is a big market. I'm not its biggest fan. Since we were there on a Sunday, all the inside buildings were closed, so only the outside markets were open. Which was fine by me.

On Monday (I had no school on Monday. It was Teacher's Day and lots of schools get Teacher's Day off) we went to Namhansanseong Provincial Park. It is SE of Seoul. We hiked around an old fortress wall. It was pretty neat, but we got slightly lost and ended up hiking double what we intended. Not a big deal, however. We also visited Mangweolsa Temple, which was (possibly) a part of the park. It was very pretty.

Then on Tuesday (no school again...my school's anniversary) Dad went home. :( Brighton and I just chilled a bit. We went to the Osan Air Force Base area near Songtan and had Subway and Baskin Robbins. Today my special English class started for the smarty-pants kids. I really enjoyed it--I think I'll have a good time with those classes. Brighton came for those classes, so they got to meet her and she them. I haven't talked much with her about what she thought. Maybe I'll try to make her write something here about it. But that may be like pulling teeth. We'll see. I will leave you with this picture of someone moving in (or out) of an apartment across from me. They use these giant ladders with a platform that moves up and down to lift furniture onto the balcony and then into the apartment. It looks a bit scary. They're moving in (or out) of a 12th floor here. Crazy.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Answer: Boseot Bulgogi; Nanta; Hwaseong; Kamja Tang
Question: What are things my dad and I have done thus far?

Yay for my dad being here! So I picked him up at the airport on Thursday evening. Because Friday was a national holiday, the traffic was really bad on the way home and took forever. Boo. upon arrival to my apartment, I got to see all the "goodies" that my dad/mom brought me from home. Very exciting. Lots of good food and summer clothes...because I don't fit into Korean clothing.

On Friday we didn't do much. It was both Buddha's Birthday and Children's Day. Both are national holidays. Usually you get both days off from school, but this year they happened to fall on the same day (because Buddha's Birthday is based on the lunar calendar). That kind of sucked. We just walked around Pyeongtaek. I saw some of my students who looked really confused that I was walking around with another white guy. "My dad!" "Oh!" Later that night they set off some fireworks that we tried to watch from my balcony, but most of them were blocked by high-rise apartment buildings.

We had planned on going into Seoul on Saturday with Charlie and taking a tour of a palace and its Secret Garden, but it was raining. So we didn't go to the palace, but we still went into Seoul because Charlie needed to go shopping and I had bought tickets for my dad and I to go to a performance called Nanta (in the US it's known as Cookin'). For lunch we had Boseot Bulgogi (beef and mushrooms that you roll in lettuce leaves with some rice and various other items). See picture. You're supposed to shove the entire role into your mouth, not take bites.

We then went to Nanta. 'Nanta' apparently means "crazy beat." It's kind of like Stomp, but the setting is a kitchen. There are chefs whose boss makes them prepare a really hard menu in a short period of time. He makes his nephew help them, and they initially don't like him. There's a girl and a guy chef who have a small romance. So it's mostly nonverbal with them making "crazy beats" with kitchen supplies, most notably with their knives. It's quite entertaining. After the show it was still raining, so we went home.

Today was sunny and nice. We went to Suwon and hiked around Hwaseong Fortress. I've included some pictures.

Apparently, within the last couple of months a drunken Korean burned down one the temple things at the highest peak of the fortress. Bummer, man. Koreans probably stoned him, seeing as he burned down part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site...aka something they can brag about. And, you know, it's a part of their culture and all. And he burned it down. Here's a before picture (taken when I went there with Joleen in February) and an after picture (taken today when I was there with my dad):

Then we went back to Pyeongtaek and went to a restaurant and had some kamja tang (which translates into potato stew). But there's not a lot of potatoes, so it's kind of a misnomer. It's beef ribs in a spicy stew liquid with mushrooms, some potatoes, a few noodles, and bean sprouts. It's very good. Probably one of my favorite Koreans foods.

Tomorrow I have to go into school. Boo. My dad keeps falling asleep at like 8:30-9. Either he stilll has jet-lag or he's just kinda lazy. I don't know. :)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Soyo say you hiked Soyosan, eh?
My calves hurt

On Saturday I trekked 4 hours to visit my friend Audrey who lives in Yangju (along with Colleen). It way up north, not too far from the NoKo border. We went to Soyosan Mountain which is located in Dongducheon, which is even further north. There's a US base there (Camp Casey). The hike up Soyosan and back down took 5 hours. My legs are so incredibly sore, especially my calves. There were points on the hike where you had to pull yourself up using rope railings. It was pretty tiring, but worth it. Even though it was a cloudy/"sand-wind" day, it was really pretty. There are 6 different peaks on Soyosan and we conquered them all! We met a couple of people (a girl and a guy) on the hike who were both in the military and stationed at Camp Casey. They were actually very nice. And young (19). Apparently when they first saw us they thought that we were either tourists or in the military. Hahahahaha!!! I can't believe that people in the military would see us hiking up a mountain and think we were in the military. I got a kick out of that. There are a bunch of lanterns strung up by the temple because May 5th is Buddha's birthday. Happy Birthday, Buddha!

The next morning we ate breakfast at this restaurant near the military base...and we got french toast, chocolate chip and banana pancakes, and biscuits and gravy!!! It was awesome. We also met a few more military guys who were also very nice (a little older-21). One of them had only been in Korea for 3 weeks, and he decided to come with us to Seoul that day (and he went without a "battle buddy" which is against military rules, apparently). There was a big Lantern Festival going on in Seoul (in honor of Buddha). There were a bunch of stalls where you could do free crafts and stuff. I made a paper lotus lantern (took friggin' forever) and painted a picture of cherry blossoms...aka traced a picture of cherry blossoms (in record 3 minutes time). I was wearing a Wisconsin t-shirt and was approached by a guy who went to UW and was writing a story on Buddhism in Korea, or something. So he asked me some questions and took a picture of us. It turns out he used to teach at Shabazz, which is pretty weird. Shabazz is an alternative high school in Madison located in Sherman Middle School, where I student taught. So that was fun. Then I went home and called my parents one last time before my dad takes off for Korea to visit me.

I also included a picture of a traditional Korean farmhouse model that I built (I finished the roof on Friday night). Because I'm a dork. I got it free for Christmas...and how can you not build it, really? Tomorrow the Pyeongtaek gang is coming over to my house for our get together to have a Traditional Korean Farmhouse-warming party. Which means we'll order pizza or something.

So today at school I find out that there's a teacher volleyball tournament that I apparently had to participate in. All the teachers were wearing their full tracksuits and tennis shoes and there I am, wearing jeans and slip-on shoes. Thanks for telling me, guys! But I really am not into wearing tracksuits, so I didn't really care. It was weird. The guys on the team (which averaged like 2) totally dominated the game and wouldn't let anyone else hit the ball unless it was physically impossible for them to reach it in time. I suck at volleyball but they were impressed nonetheless because half the other Korean ladies were afraid of the ball. My team (the 6th grade teachers) got 3rd place. They were also impressed with my kickball abilities. Which, again, are nothing to write home about, but I actually kick the ball with force and get it into the air unlike half the other teachers who either miss the ball or make it go foul. Come on...it's friggin' kickball.

After school my vice-principal (or as my co-teacher says, "vice-prisoner"), co-teacher, and some other random guy from the office at my school came to my apartment for an unknown reason. I guess to check and make sure I haven't destroyed anything. I don't know. Then I had to go out to eat with the vice-principal and my co-teacher. Both speak a decent amount of English. Joleen, we went to that 'Cafe' that you can see from my apartment building. It was westernish, but still Koreany. Guess what my vice-principal asked me..."So, you will maybe think about staying another year?" SERIOUSLY. What the hell does she not understand about NO, I'M NOT COMING BACK? Then she gave me another task to be completed by June...designing a new English classroom complete with "stations" or something. So now I'm an architect. But I layed out a lot of things that bother native English teachers about their contracts because they were complaining that 50% of native teachers only stay one year. I, myself, was surprised it was that high. I guess it is good money. So now I'm home. And I watched the newest Grey's Anatomy. And downloaded United 93 just because of all the hype. Now I need to go.