Friday, September 07, 2007

The new job.

I finished my last Friday class of my second week at Dong Eui, just 30 minutes ago. So far the experience of being a university teacher has been in superior to my previous job in almost every way. The one glaring difference is that my university students actually have a lot less English than my hogwan students did. The first week was great. Most of the students didn't have the textbook for the first class. So I focused on a series of introduction and interview activities so I could assess their levels. Most of them could put together basic sentences, but they were struggling to go beyond that point. My first Monday classes suffered a little bit because I am so used to teaching higher levels students. It took me a day to reassess and readjust my teaching activities and vocabulary to a point where I could carry out a a successful and entertaining lesson. However, the great thing is that I (like most of the new teachers) am teaching the basic freshmen classes. This means that I have the same lesson plan for the entire week. It may get a bit boring (although I try to keep in interesting by including my own additions), but it means that by the middle of the week I have the lesson down and I can teach the students at my best. Poor Monday morning class will always get my "practice lesson" while the Friday class will get the lesson at it's best.
This week I got stuck into the textbook. It's quite a good book, with a variety of teaching methods included in every chapter. Also, it does a good job of filling up most of a two hour lecture. With just enough time to add in one or two of my own activities. I really enjoyed the activity I added this week. I borrowed the activity from another teacher here Basically I get the students to make up an imaginary character. A lot of them will choose to be Brad Pitt or something of the like, but I encourage a fully imaginary character. The class is then divided into boys and girls (part of the fun is that lots of the "boys" and "girls" are played by girls and boys). They then have two minutes to meet 4-5 other students and have a "speed date." I have the "boys" rotate to meet different girls and I keep the pace fast so they don't get bored. Afterwards I ask the students about their best and worst dates. Its especially entertaining have the students explain why they loved a guy who is playing a girl (or visa versa). They all get a huge laugh from it and I try to egg them on by finding "love triangles" of students with the same first preference. Koreans are mad for dating shows and also really competitive as a culture. So when you combine the two it gets even taciturn students involved. I model a whole series of questions before they go dating. But even so, there were a couple of classes where this really pushed the limits of their abilities. Unfortunately, the more students I have the more limited my ability to create "basic" English activities which work with minimal supervision.
Anyway, I feel like I have made a positive first impression on most of my classes. Which will be important when it comes time for my contract to be renewed.
Next week I start teaching the "institute classes." These classes are for university students who want extra English tuition. They are pretty much like a standard hogwan class actually. About 10 students, a textbook and conversation activities. However, even if it is an extra hour of class every day, I think it will be a positive experience. Firstly, my freshman classes are too large to build relationships with the students. So, the institute classes will allow me to do better, more focused teaching. Secondly, the classes pay $25 an hour, which should really improve my paycheck.
Anyway, the new job is working out really well. I enjoy most of my classes and now that I am starting to get my feet under me I have a lot more time in my work day to improve my teaching.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Year Two!

Last year I really lost interest in updating my blog in the last four months. It was for a variety of reasons. I set myself some goals this year to make sure I continue to have such a positive experience in Korea. One of those goals is to update my blog once a week. Even if nothing is happening I want to form a habit of sharing my thoughts with the people who read my blog. Certainly, part of the reason I lost the habit of posting was that I found Facebook a more convenient and entertaining way of keeping in touch with most of my friends. However there are many special people in my life who are not on Facebook and I don't want to leave them out.

My recent trip home was full of visits with family and many great experiences. I think the highlight was my trip to New York with my mother and sister. We went to museums, ate great food and went to musicals. I particularly recommend Spamalot! as a wonderfully inappropriate and hilarious distillation of some of the best that Monty Python offered in it's heyday.

I am now back in Korea and embarking on the next chapter of my Korean adventure. For those of you who don't know, I have been lucky and determined enough to get myself a job teaching at Dong Eui University, here in Busan. I started looking for the right job months ago. I wanted a job which would make my time here more pleasurable and more meaningful. With a teaching degree I could have found myself a job in a day if I really wanted. There are so many Hogwans and public (elementary, middle and high) schools looking for good teachers. But I set my sights high. In particular I wanted to job at a University. It took me almost 3 months of dedicated job hunting before I signed the contract with Dong Eui. In my first month of looking for jobs I interviewed for Pukyoung University. I was offered the job the day after my interview. However, when I entered into contract negotiations I found myself disappointed with their offer. The pay was lower than what I expected, they only gave a month of holidays and the housing was in a student dormitory! After a lot of thought and receiving the opinions of a number of friends (a few who work at Pukyoung, and some who work at other universities) I declined the job offer. Part of the reason I felt able to do so was that I had just had an excellent interview with Dong Sung, a private elementary school. They offered good wages, 8 weeks of paid vacation and some very comfortable housing. The head foreign teacher told me that I was their best candidate. So, I felt comfortable giving up the Pukyoung option. However, the Principal of the school had other ideas and it turns out she only wanted to hire women.
After giving up the Pukyoung job and loosing the Dong Sung job I entered into 6 incredibly stressful weeks with no job offers and precious few good jobs being posted on the job sites. When I was a month from the end of my contract, I finally saw another university position advertised which I was elegible for (many universities require either nepotism or a Masters to enter). I applied and was called the next day to set up an interview. I did quite well in the intial interview and was contacted in a couple days for a second interview. I don't know how many people got a first interview, but there were 20 people in the second round of interviews, applying for 5 positions. In some of my interviews I have a sense that I have either sealed the deal or failed to get the job. This time I really had no idea, so it was a stressful week waiting for the answer. Six days later I got a call, not from Dong Eui, but from Dong Sung! The principal had reconsidered her insistence on females and I was being offered the job. WOW! I was really happy.... But... I was supposed to hear from Dong Eui the next day. I told them that I was very interested but I needed time to consider my options, and the next day I was also offered the Dong Eui job. It was no simple matter deciding between them. They both had big advantages. I am an elementary teacher and the school had excellent facilities in it's "English village." But the Dong Eui job offered the possibility of more money and greater prestige. On the other hand the Elementary school offered excellent housing, while the University job would require me to find and pay for my own housing. Obviously, in the end I chose the University job, and I still feel it was the right choice. In the end, all things being equal, I would rather be at work for 20 hours a week instead of 40 (especially if it is for the same money :)

It's a hot Friday afternoon as I write this. I don't have internet in my apartment yet, so I am writing this post in a nearby PC Room, which is decorated to look like a cross between a Roman villa and a Renaissance palace (don't ask, it's Korea). Tomorrow I will go for a beach bbq, and then play volleyball until the sun goes down. On Monday I will teach my very first university class. Life is good, and I am filled with a feeling of contentment. In my last week in N. America I certainly had my doubts. I was enjoying family time, something in short supply in Korea. I wondered if I wanted to once again separate myself from these familiar faces. But as I flew over the skies of Busan, picking out familiar and much loved landmarks in the brilliant night time lights of a Korean city, the smile on my face told me all I needed to know about the rightness of my decision to stay and live in Korea.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Four angry Ajushis

Apparently there is a problem with my apartment. It's not affecting me, but the water from my Air Con is getting onto the floor and into the walls and some of it is dripping from the ceiling of the solarium of the in the apartment below me. So, today my school arranged for the building manager and a contractor to come to my apartment and look at the problem. First the building manager came and took and look. Then he went away. He came back with one of the people from my hogwan and the contractor. They stood around, gesticulating and arguing for 15 minutes. Then the building manager made a call and 5 minutes later, two more guys showed up. So now, as I type this there are 5 Korean men in my small apartment all arguing vehemently. Apparently, two of them are from an apartment in the 2nd floor, who were invited in since its dripping on them. It's all a bit surreal having them in my little apartment. I took a little video just to give you an idea of what's going on.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Beach Volleyball

I might have mentioned it before, but I have gotten really into beach volleyball lately. The two main beaches in Pusan are Haeundae and Gwangali. People play at both beaches. However, I am not really part of the Haeundae crowd and they tend to take their volleyball pretty seriously.

A friend of mine, Murray, owns a Volleyball net. Towards the end of April, the weather became warm enough to play. I never played much beach volleyball before coming to Busan. But the people playing at Gwangali are all about enjoying themselves and not taking the game to seriously.

I have played almost every weekend for the last two months and I feel like I am finally starting to get a reasonable amount of ball control. Last month, Murray actually went on holiday and left the net with me. So I have been organizing the games and taking care of the equipment. It's a bot of work, but it's also been a really good way to meet some new friends. Since I am there every weekend I have been meeting lots of really cool people.

This last week marked the beginning of the rainy season and we have had some rain almost every day. But on the plus side we still managed to play 4-5 hours of Volleyball on both Saturday and Sunday. We actually got rained on about 4 times on Saturday, but it was never more than light showers. So it was still fun.

Tom, a friend I met about a month ago playing volleyball, took the pictures I have posted here. He took them on Saturday, so you can see the rain clouds that kept us damp all day, but they came out nicely. I especially like the group shots which show the Gwangali bridge in the background with the sunset starting behind the clouds.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Finally something worth writing about!

So I have been putting a lot of effort into my plans for next year. I mentioned before that I have visited a lot of universities with my resume package. Well, last week I got a call from Pukyoung National University for an interview. Initially I was told that I would be getting an interview on Friday (May 25). I was to prepare and model 1o minutes of a class as well as go through the interview itself. Then they called me back and said that the director of their program (apparently he's the new guy with the new ideas) wants to see me teach an actual lesson. This is a new system they have devised to choose their teachers. I am just the lucky son of a bitch who gets to be the very first candidate to do it. At first I felt a bit pissed off. I have to teach my first class at my Hogwan at 4:40, but they want me to teach a 3pm class. Also, they were initially a little hazy on the details. However, when I thought about it more I realized that although it was going to be stressful as hell it was probably the best thing for me. Teaching kids you have never met, with an unfamiliar textbook, classroom and materials is tough job interview. But I am a good teacher, and my best teaching skills is my rapport with kids. If I modeled a lesson they would have no idea of my real teaching abilities. Just a stilted pseudo lesson to compare with the other applicants. Anyway, I told them I could do it on the Tuesday of next week and they said they would get back to me with details about my class, book etc...

Monday rolls around and they tell me that the class has been rescheduled until Thursday. I supposed it was nice to have more prep time, but the stress of having this interview over my head for 8 days was really unpleasant. They told me I would have nine, grade 2 kids, the textbook I would use and the general assessment parameters they would use. I was also told that the director of FLEC (Foreign Language English Center, where I would be working) who is also a professor of English at the university, the assistant director and the manager, would all be sitting in the class watching the whole thing. Finally, I was told that since wednesday was the last day of the term I would now not be teaching an actual textbook chapter, but should instead review the key concepts from the book (nothing eight year olds like more than review!). So, NO pressure!

I bought the textbook I was supposed to be using and went over it Wednesday. I am glad I did all my homework because these kids are much lower than the ones I have been teaching at Unium. I supposed I should stop myself here for a minute. Even though it is a university job, you have both adult and children's English classes to teach. After 6 months or more, if you prove yourself a good teacher you may get to opportunity to stop teaching English classes and teach real university courses. One of my friends at the university is teaching introduction to political science. Anyway, the textbook is really low level English. I prepared some activities I thought would use the vocabulary from the book as well as keep the kids attention. For example, I made a mystery box with 5 items in it. The kids had to feel the objects, then draw and label them. Then the lesson progressed to making sentences. I HELD a ........ I FELT a ....... I TOUCHED a ........

I went to the school around 2:15 so that I would have time to look at my classroom and prepare materials etc... I talked with Donna, who is the main manager and foreign teacher liaison (she has the best English). She was very nice and helpful and got me set up in my room. I spent the next 30 minutes getting some extra workbook materials ready and nervously pacing. When the time rolled around.... Well, a classroom is my element, I took all that nervous energy and I channeled it into my lessons and my voice and I kept 9 hyperactive eight year olds (with almost no English) working and learning. The very first thing I did was establish with the children that when I raised my hand they should also do it and stop speaking. I explain almost entirely with gestures, but it worked. I think that may have been the most important thing I did.

After the class I had my interview. I am so glad I emphasized my classroom management skills in my lesson. The first thing that was said to me upon sitting down was how impressed they were at how I controlled the class. The assistant director actual said that I could teach some of their other teachers how to manage their class (a good sign? I think so!). They asked me about my other teaching experiences, my plans for Korea, why I wanted to work at Pukyoung etc.... However, what made me most hopeful about my chances was that they spent at least half of the interview talking about the contract. Did I know about the overtime options, how did I feel about taking part in the summer camp and did I know about how the holidays work? We spent 10 minutes just talking about living options, about whether I wanted to live on campus (free) or pay for my own apartment.

Anyway, they told me I would have their answer late next week and I left feeling quite positive. At 10 this morning I received an email asking if I could come provide them with a whole bunch of documents. The email started by saying it was the woman "doing the work on the contract." It ended by saying "I was told that you start from 1 September, 2007 and your pay will be 1,920,000won." No formal "we are pleased to offer you a position," but I guess this means that I have a university job for next year! I have emailed to confirm that this is a formal offer of a job (and not some contract bureaucrat dotting the i's), but hot damn!!!

Some of you might realize the pay is almost $400 less than my current job. However, the nice thing about universities is how much fewer hours your contract stipulates. Pukyoung requires 18 hours a week, while Unium requires 30 hours. So, if I actually worked enough overtime to equal my current hours I would be close to earning 3,000,000. Hopefully I won't have that much overtime, and I can find some privates now that I don't work all the after-school hours. Also, this means that I have over a month to visit family and take my trip around Korea. Anyway, I will post again when I have more details.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Slow news day.

I have gotten slack about posting again. Part of it is that after being here for close to a year, new experiences don't happen every week. Part of it is I have been feeling a bit down lately. Part of it is the daily grind, part of it is that plans to have family visit never seem to pan out. Korea isn't a good stop over for most of the places my family would travel, and with uncertain vacation time at my Hogwan, it's hard to make plans. The biggest reason I am feeling down is that so many things are up in the air right now. I am about 98% sure that I will being doing a second year in Korea (unless something unforeseen happens). However, I don't know what I will being doing here. I have gone to five different universities in the last couple of weeks to show my face and give my resume package to their English departments. Right now I am waiting and hoping to hear back from one of them. There isn't much I can do except wait and it's stressful to have so much uncertainty. My hogwan has also put the pressure on because they want to know if I will renew my contract and they said they need to know by the beginning of June. This doesn't give me much time to find a new job. I have been reasonably happy at Unium. They give a lot of holiday time and a decent pay rate. However, it's also good to have change, and I don't know how they will feel about giving me time off in August (when I want to travel Korea and go back to Halifax when my sister Ingrid is there). The other problem is that the hours are so late that its next to impossible to find privates when I work during all the after school/work hours (4-10).
Anyway, all this uncertainty has gotten me feeling a little out of sorts. On the good side, summer is finally here. I spent several of the last weekends playing beach volleyball. People tend to hole up during the winter, so it's great that the social scene is starting to pick up. Also, it's amazing how quickly new things appear here. A darts bar popped up a couple of months ago and indoor golf has also just appeared in Busan. I just played today with a mate. We got a pizza and played 18 holes. You play in a big room with a huge screen, and good quality clubs. We played for two hours for just $20. I was also supposed to go paintballing in the country area around Songjong beach last Saturday. Unfortunately, it got rained out, but I am sure it will happen again.
Hopefully my plans for next year will settle themselves within the next month. As soon as they do I will let everyone know here.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A sad anniversary

Last week, while I was in Seoul, I had a drink with a friend and toasted my uncle Jon's memory. Jon died on the 28th of April last year. I don't really know what to write in this post. I still haven't really come to terms with Jon's death. I couldn't go to the funeral and I don't even know if he has a grave site somewhere. I have thought a lot about Jon this last month. There was a deep bond between Jon and I. During my time in university I visited a couple of times a year, and he was a constant source of emotional support and advice about life. More than anyone else I would have loved to share my current experience in Korea with Jon.
I don't really know how to express what else I am feeling. I guess I didn't want this first anniversary to pass unnoticed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Plans and Plans

I have a holiday this week. I have mentioned it before, how my hogwan gives us a week off when the middle school students have exams. Thats how I went to Thailand. This time I am nearing the end of my first year here in Korea, so I am being a bit more careful with my money. So instead of a big expensive trip I am going to go on a four day visit (Thursday to Sunday) to Seoul. I have passed through Seoul a couple of times, but never visited the city properly. Its one of the great cities in Asia. The greater metropolitan area of Seoul has almost 24,000,000 people. Making it the second largest in the world, after Tokyo. Besides and incredible population, Seoul has a lot of historical sites of significance. I'm not going to go over them now. I leave on my trip tomorrow and I will take plenty of pics of the sites I visit and will make other posts about them. My mate Dave is going to head up Friday night to meet me and we will go out to the party district for "club night," the last Friday of the month. I imagine it will be pretty fun :)
As I mentioned I am nearing the end of my first year. So I have started to consider my plans for next year. Actually, I have been considering them for a while, but I am not acting on them. I am going to start actively looking for a University job in Pusan for next year. The Uni jobs have several advantages, but the main ones are less hours for close to the same pay (maybe 20 hours of classes a week) and two month long paid vacations a year. I requested a reference letter from my current job, and was given an excellent one by Sarah, the VP at our branch. The letter mentioned that I was the best reviewed (they get teacher feedback from the students at the end of each term) foreign teacher at Namcheon, and that they would happily rehire me. I am putting together a full resume package with degrees, transcripts, reference letters, resume etc... which I will take to most of the major universities in Busan. I don't really know what my chances are, but my fingers are crossed. I have been both lucky and happy at my current hogwan, and we get more vacation time than any other hogwan I know of. But working at a Uni would still be preferable.
If everything works out as planned I will finish my current contract on July 24th. I will then take a week to 10 days for a motorcycle trip all around Korea with Dave. After which I will hopefully have about 3 weeks to come back to N. America and visit family before my next contract starts. Its difficult to say at this point how all of this will turn out, but I am thinking positively.
The motorcycle trip is actually one of the things I am most excited about. Dave finishes his contract a little before me and then he goes back to New York to attend Brooklyn Law School. So this is a one time chance to take a real motorcycle adventure around Korea with someone who is both good friends and partially speaks the language. Dave bought a motorcycle about a month ago (and I have been teaching him to ride) for the express purpose of taking this trip. So, I am going to make damn sure that this part of my plans goes ahead.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A walk up Jangsan

Last weekend my friend John invited me to go hike on Jangsan mountain. We met up at my apartment in Namcheon dong and drove to Jangsan dong, where we parked and proceeded up the mountain.

I've never been a huge outdoors person. But lately I seem to be doing a lot of outdoor activities. Jangsan Mt. is the second highest peak in Busan (maybe 1km above sea level). It's not a huge mountain, but it does offer some good panoramas.

The walk took us about 4 hours, although that did include a stop for lunch. Like any hike in Korea we had to share the trail with a fair number of people. In the picture above you can see some Taekwondo students who were hiking up the trail as a class activity. It was very cute and somewhat funny to see all these little 8-12 year olds dressed up in their combat gear straining up the trail.

I went on the hike with John and his friend, Jong Hak. Both of them are smokers so they found the hike more arduous than me. Its been a long time since I felt that I was reasonably fit. But I have managed to maintained a gym regimen since a couple months after I came to Korea. I have put on a good amount of muscle and really improved my cardio. I guess I realized how much I have improved my fitness when I witnessed my friends wheezing up the trail. I used to be the one who found themselves out of breath, so it was a nice feeling. That's John standing next to me in the picture below.

The trail progressed in a couple stages, which offered different views of the city. Toronto is a great city in many ways, but when I lived there I always hated how flat it was. Growing up in Hobart, where nothing is flat, gives you an appreciation for a city laid out on the hillside. Busan is sandwiched between the ocean and the mountains and Jangsan is the best place to observe exactly how the city is shaped.

The picture above shows the eastern area of the city. Although you can't really see it, the city is curving around the famous Haeundae beach.

The picture above continues the show the eastern area of the city a little further south. If you click on the picture for a larger view then you can see Gwangali beach and the Gwangan Bridge. My apartment is located in the area between where the upper part of the bridge joins the land, and the beach. Unfortunately, the day we hiked the air was a little hazy, so the pictures of the city aren't as clear as I would like.

This picture shows the area of the city west and inland of Gwangali beach, towards the center of the city. I like this picture because it really shows how the hills dominate the landscape of Busan. I always find it interesting how in a land so starved of land, the Koreans are still so adverse to building on hillsides and mountains. Koreans traditionally buried their dead in the hills. Many families still own plots on hillsides around the city they live in. On any mountain hike in Korea you are likely to walk past marked or unmarked mounds where someone is buried.

On the way down the mountain we stopped at a... well restaurant would be too fancy a word... lets call it an eating establishment; for some much needed food. It doesn't look like much and the food was very simple, but it was quite good and it really hit the spot.

The meal consisted of real Korean staples. A plate of Dubu (tofu), a plate of the ubiquitous Kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage) and Pajun which is a a sort of pancake made of mostly green onion and egg, with some squid and other vegetables thrown in.

It was about 19 degrees on the day we hiked and spring had been around long enough that everything was beginning to bloom.

Part of what made the hike so great was that this was the first time I had gotten out and really taken advantage of the spring weather. I have the weather from Busan, Toronto, Hobart and Halifax on my Google homepage and I have to laugh when at the beginning of April, Busan was having days close to the 20's and Halifax and Toronto were still getting snow.

We finished our hike sitting at the edge of a reservoir, under blossoming cherry trees, drinking coffee in the sun. We had started early enough that it was only 3:30 by the time we finished and I still had a nice afternoon ahead of me. I finished the day with a visit to a Jimjilbang (bathhouse/sauna) and a late meal of Samgyupsal (Korean pork BBQ); with some other friends, Dave and Jong Wook.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Skiing in Korea

A while back I went skiing at Muju, the most popular ski resort in the southern part of S. Korea. A friend of mine, Murray, sets up a trip every year. I met Murray and the other skiers at 5am to get the bus to the ski slopes. I haven't been fortunate enough to experience great Canadian skiing since I was a small child. So I really enjoyed myself. It wasn't an amazing resort, but it was definitely superior to the skiing I have done in Ontario and Nova Scotia and Tasmania. We got to the slopes at about 9am and we skied until about 5pm.
The lower slopes were a bit crowded, but once I got my board legs back I headed to the upper slopes, which were both more challenging and less crowded. I spent about half my time skiing with some of Murray's students (Murray has been here for about 4 years and does only private lessons) which was nice. He brought 6-7 of his kids with him, which was really nice. They were really cool kids and it's nice to see some Korean kids doing something other than studying. The rest of the time I skied with western friends. It had actually been two years since my last time on the slopes. Apart from the enjoyment of skiing it was also nice to partake in an activity that seemed so Canadian.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Last day in North Korea

Our last day in North Korea focused on the main hike up the Mangmulsang course. It was a really beautiful hike. Unfortunately, we weren't able to complete the full hike. The top of the course had become so iced that only hikers with crampons were being allowed to complete the walk. However, there were some highlights.

The hike followed the course of the partially frozen Gwaneum river. We were surrounded by incredible cliffs on all sides, so despite the fact that it was mid-morning the path was often cast into shadow. Which is the reason that so much of it was ice covered.

There are a lot of superstitions about the water from this area. We were told that drinking the water from this river was supposed to add years to your life and take 10 years from your face. I don't know what the origin of this belief is, but all the S. Koreans were carrying cups and bottles with them so they could taste and save some of the water. I filled both my water bottles from the river and brought them both back with me to Busan. I brought one of the bottles to work with me so everyone could try it. I think some of the South Korean women in the office were quite excited to drink real Geumgang water :)

One of my favorite spots on the hike was the frozen waterfall you can see in the picture above. At times the hike was too crowded. It's easy to forget sometimes how many people live in this tiny country, but whenever you go to a popular tourist place you are reminded how many people you are sharing your space with. However, once you accept that when in the great outdoors you can't enjoy the same seclusion as in Australia or Canada, it's not so bad. At least people are good at giving each other room to take a good picture.

I was with the first group to make it to the top of the trail (or at least the top of the trail we were allowed on without crampons) and we got a nice Korean guy to take our picture. I met some really nice people on this trip. All of the people in the picture were new acquaintances I met on the trip. They were all really nice people. Most of the people in this particular picture are from Canada. The people on the trip were from all over the place. There were N. Americans, Europeans, Australians and New Zealanders. However, there were definitely a disproportionate number of Canadians. For some reason, there are a lot more of us in Korea than you would expect from our small population.
Anyway, after the hike we headed back to the hotel for a late lunch and some time in the Jimjilbang (bathhouse). It was the nicest Jimjilbang I have been to in Korea. The indoor area was nice, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, the outdoor section was really amazing. When you go outside you are protected from prying eyes by a stone wall. There are a number of hot and cold pools which had hot and cold waterfalls you can stand under for a water pressure massage. However, the best part is that the whole thing is designed so that over the stone walls you can see the entire panorama of the Geumgangsan mountains spread out before you. It had rained and snowed on the first day, so the air was crystal clear. I spent a long time just lying in the water mesmerized by the view. It's too bad you can't take pictures in a bath house :)
Anyway, we got back on the buses around 4:30 for the long trek back to Seoul. My friend Lindsey and I got an 11pm bus from Seoul back to Pusan, which arrived at about 3:30 in the morning. I was pretty dead for work on Monday, but it was definitely a great trip!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pyongyang Circus

Ok, so back to the N. Korea trip. As I said we didn't have time for more than the briefest of breaks after we returned for our hikes. The circus was going to start in 20 minutes. The area where they keep the South Koreans (Hangukin) and other foreigners (Waygukin) is this strange modern little enclave. It even has a Family Mart, which is Asia's answer to 7/11. So I picked up some sort of nasty packaged pastry and headed into the auditorium.
The Pyongyang circus is apparently pretty well known and the show was really amazing. We weren't supposed to take pictures, but I managed to sneak some really good shots of the acts.

The first memorable act was some truly amazing juggling. The Jugglers wove around and through and between each other constantly juggling. They climaxed with the juggling tower you see pictured.

The next picture shows one of the formations created by the acrobats using the pole apparatus. These guys were like monkeys climbing up the poles upside down, sideways, over and under each other. I can't imagine the strength and control the guys on the top must have to hold the weight of all the others.

This pictures shows some of the acrobats doing jump rope on monocycles. The picture itself isn't that impressive, but the act was pretty cool. Later on, the women stood on the men's shoulders while they jumped the ropes. They also combined a crossways jump rope and cycled (on bicycles) at full speed in between and past each other in a really amazing pattern.

The final act was some incredible trapeze artistry. There were about 8 trapeze artists and they were great. the women were being thrown clear across the entire stage! They were moving too fast for me to get a really good shot. I wish that the pictures I 've put in the post were able to do justice to the experience. But if you ever have the chance to see the Pyongyang or the Chinese circuses (apparently somewhat similar) I strongly recommend you go.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A bit of an epiphany

If I can digress from my posts about North Korea, I wanted to write briefly about an epiphany I had today outside a movie theater washroom. I was sitting waiting for a friend, thinking about nothing much really, when I suddenly realized one of the subconscious reasons I like being here in Korea so much.
One of the things that has always psychologically frustrated and upset me in my life is the constant sense I have of not belonging to anywhere. I am an Australian, Canadian, American. I have never lived in America so I have never felt that that was my home. I lived in Australia for many years while I grew up, and there are many things I love about Australia. However, there are several reasons why I never felt that it was my own country. I guess I feel more Canadian than anything else. I certainly prefer to tell people that I am Canadian these days because of the despicable politics of America and Australia. However, it was never completely home either.
I realized today, sitting outside that washroom that part of what I love about being here is that I don't feel bad about not belonging here. Wherever else I have lived I always wanted to be part of the culture and feel a sense of belonging, but my own psyche (and sometimes the people around me) never allowed me to forget that this was not "home." Here in Pusan I can feel perfectly at peace with not belonging. I don't belong here, but I don't belong in a way I can feel proud of. I am here living in an alien culture and the strange thing is that I sometimes feel that it is more positive to be where I can never really belong than in countries where I always felt like I should, but never did.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The first hike

One of the amazing things about the Geumgang Mountains is how they rise from the plains. Around the mountains the ground is largely flat and close to sea level. There are stark and impressive rock formations (it feels a bit like pictures of Arizona, with less red) but there are no real foothills. Then the mountains themselves rise straight for the sky. I met a couple from near the Alberta Rockies, and they told me while hiking that the Geumgang mountains (although much much smaller) were in some ways more impressive for their sheer cliffs and thousands of jagged sharp peeks.
The tour took us by bus part way up the mountain to where the trail began. From the very beginning the hike was incredibly steep.

Stairs had been cut into the mountain for much of the hike. Without them certain stretches of the trail would have been beyond inexperienced hikers. There was one part of the trail where the stairs we climbed allowed us to ascend about 250m almost straight up. The mountain was too steep for a simple path. The hike was only of moderate length, but it offered some of the most incredible views I have seen in years.

As we neared the peak, the views got better and better and I had to resist the urge to stop and take pictures every time I rounded a corner. But when we reached the top it was well worth it. Unfortunately, since this is Korea, there were many other people hiking the same trail behind us and we didn't have a long time to stop and savor the moment.

After we took some pictures we headed back down the mountain. Since this was to be a short trip, the tour company was cramming as many things as possible into a single day. As we reached the bottom of the mountain it started snowing. It was a real pleasure to feel the snow on my face. Although I managed to go snowboarding a few weeks ago (which I might post about later) this was the first time I had really been in a proper snowfall this year. I love how dry and pleasant Busan is in winter, but once you leave the city it's nice to experience real winter. The following pic was taken at the bottom just as the first flakes were beginning to fall.

By this time we were running behind schedule. So, when we were all back on the bus we were given a choice to either go back to the hotel, to relax and have lunch, or to go on to the next hiking area. Keep in mind that I had left Busan at 4:30pm the previous day and we started this hike at around 8:30am (with my only breakfast being a sandwich I had saved from a rest stop on the way to Bukhan) after only 3-4 hours of sleep on an uncomfortable bus. However, I didn't want to miss anything and elected to go on the next hike with most of the group. Thankfully the next course was supposed to be more of a leisurely stroll around a beautiful lake, rather than another mountain hike.
We soon arrived at Samilpo lake (back in the lowlands it was drizzling instead of snowing) ready for the next walk. This picture from the beginning of the walk will give you a small sense of how the mountains rise straight from the plains.

Thankfully, the walk was easy and restful as had been advertised. But it was well worth it since it also offered some beautiful views.

The lake course was barely over an hour with a brief respite at a North Korean restaurant. Which you can see in the pic below, nestled on the shore of the lake.

Unfortunately, the restaurant wasn't able to cope with the sudden deluge of customers and I had to satisfy my hunger with a small snack of Dubu (tofu) and a Heineken. In the picture below you can see three North Koreans. The waitress, the cook and a man watching the cook. On the coats of the waitress and the man watching the cook you can see little red dots. These are pins showing the face of Kim Jong Il.

Almost all the North Koreans we met were wearing them. One of the people on the trip pointed at a button and asked about it. The North Korean whose button was being pointed at clapped their hands over the button in horror at the desecration of a finger pointing at the dear leader! After our quick snack we headed back to buses, which returned us to the hotel with time only for a very brief corner store snack before we had to head off again to see the North Korean circus!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Welcome to Bukhan (N. Korea)

My friend Lindsey and I left Busan on the KTX train at around 4:30 pm. Korea has great public transportation. The KTX travels the 500km between Busan and Seoul in about 2 hours and 40 minutes. At one point the train reached 295 km an hour. Once we were in Seoul we had some dinner and then passed the next 3 hours over a few beer. At 11:30 we boarded the bus to Bukhan. It wasn't the most comfortable ride and it was light before we got close to the border. At around 7am we reached immigration. Everybody was herded into a big tent and sorted into lines (South Koreans in different lines from foreigners). The Bukhanin (North Korean person) soldiers were very serious looking, but to be honest, in some ways the the security is heavier at an American airport. When it was my turn I was actually asked to step aside and my passport was taken away. The soldier was concerned because my home country was listed as Canada, but my citizenship was listed as American (I was using my US passport because it has my S. Korean Visa). After everyone else had passed the soldier questioned me for a couple of minutes and let me through, and then walked off with both my passports! I found the tour guide and he said he would find out what was going on. Needless to say I was pretty fucking stressed! I was almost to the buses when the soldier came back. Apparently he needed to check with the higher ups and everything was ok. Anyway, it was quite the introduction to Bukhan. The view as we went through the DMZ and reached Bukhan was quite bleak. The dry Korean winter allows little grass to grow and the Bukhanin cut down any plant over a foot in height so that they can see anyone trying to defect. Razor wire fences line the roads and every half kilometer or so a Korean soldier stands in a pillbox watching the buses drive by. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take any pictures of the DMZ because if any soldier sees you take a picture they raise a red flag with each of them carries and you get fined (not to mention the possibility of loosing your camera). The first picture I was able to take was after we reached Bukhan proper. It doesn't show much but it gives my first image of the Geumgangsan Mountains (which were our destination) and a small Bukhanin village.

We finally arrived at the hotel and unloaded our bags in the lobby. However, we didn't check in. Instead we got onto smaller shuttle buses and headed straight out for our first hike.

Check in soon for the next installment in my trip diary!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Welcome back

Hi everyone, My blog has been silent for quite a while now. I had a period of a month where my computer was down. My A/C adapter fried and I had to get one sent from Canada. By the time it arrived I was deep in the super busy Winter Vacation term and I was at school 10 hours a day. When February rolled around I had completely lost my blogging habit. But its time to get back into it.
Since a couple of month have gone by there is both a lot to talk about and not that much. I broke up with the girl I was dating (Min Ju) for a variety of reasons. The relationship only lasted two months so it wasn't too broken up about it. It was nice while it lasted and I learned a lot about Korean culture and dating in Korea. There hasn't been any new romance since we broke up in early January.
January was really quite a dead month. It was all work and not much fun. I made a lot of money, went out on the weekends and basically just survived. It was great to get back to my regular 3:30-10pm schedule in February. I didn't do anything special last month. I was saving my money so I could start to pay back some of my university debt. Also, there had been plans for my mum to come visit me during the Sulnal (Korean Lunar New Year) holiday, but she wasn't able to make it.
I guess my two biggest pieces of news are that I am now studying Korean properly at a Hogwan. I have two classes a week on Monday and Wednesday. Korean Grammar is both very difficult and easy. Difficult because it's totally different from English and sentences are constructed completely opposite from English, but easy because it doesn't break all it's own rules like English. Also things like tenses are far simpler. I have only had a couple weeks worth of lessons but I am already learning a lot.
The other big new is that I am going to North Korea! A friend found a company which organizes trips to Geum Gang Mountain. Which is a famously beautiful area about 80 km from Pyongyang. It's a three day weekend (leaving this Friday) which includes hiking, natural mountain hot springs and some cultural shows. Our movements will be restricted to certain areas, but I still think it's a really cool chance to see what is perhaps the most closed country in the world.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

I woke up this morning feeling good. It is my first Christmas here in Pusan, and I feel very positive. I had a light breakfast and watched a bad Christmas movie on TV (they do that here too). Then I got out of the apartment and went down to Gwangali Beach. If you aren't going to have a white Christmas (and god knows I got used to that in Australia) then you might as well have a beautiful sunny day. Its 2 in the afternoon as I write this and outside it is a warm 17c. It feels like one of those perfect Fall days, where the air is clean and crisp, the sun is shining and the world seems full of possibilities.

I sat on the patio at my favorite Gwangali coffee place, looking out onto the sunlit ocean and the picturesque Gwangan Bridge.

I had an onion bagel and a cappuccino (yes they also have those here!) and felt very good about where I was. Then I came back home and started writing this entry. All in all, it was a great start to Christmas. Dave should be here in a couple hours so we can get started on the cooking, but I wanted to make the most of having a working computer and share my Christmas morning with whoever visits my blog.


The end of a good trip

This post is coming very late, but better late than never as the saying goes. Our trip ended well. We spent a lot of time hanging out with our friend Rosy, whom we met our first day on Koh Samui. She was with us when we went to the waterfall, temples and various beaches I have posted pictures of. We also met some a couple of interesting guys from London. They were both Bobbies (London cops) on Holiday, and we arranged to meet up with them the night of the party.
The big event was the Full Moon Party. The FMP is the biggest beach party in the world. During the height of the season here, the party attract as many as 15ooo people. The FMP we saw didn't reach those numbers, but it was still a cool experience. We had another great Thai dinner, and a couple of drinks and then we headed to the beach around 10:30 or 11. When we got there the party wasn't yet in full swing. We bought a couple of the buckets which Had Rin beach and the Full moon party are famous for. They consist of a plastic bucket filled with a bottle of whisky, vodka or rum, plus a mixer and a bottle of the REAL Red Bull. The vendor mixes your selection over ice and the while thing costs about $6-$10. We walked the full length of the beach to take in all the possibilities. There were about half a dozen DJ's playing a variety of music ranging from House, to Latin to Rock. We settled in front of a fireworks display for a while. After the fireworks had fired off they left the shape of a flaming elephant floating on the fireworks platform. We finished our first buckets while we watched the display. We then wandered up to the other end of the beach where there were fire dancers doing some really incredible juggling and spinning. They used staffs which were lit at both ends and when they span and tossed them in the air it was an amazing sight. I will post some pics when I get them off my friends. After we watched the fire show we were all lubed up enough to start some serious dancing. We settled near one of the DJ's playing dance music and got into the groove. By that time the beach had really filled up. During one of my runs to go to the bathroom and find another bucket I lost my friends. By that time I was drunk enough I didn't really care. I looked for them for about 15 minutes, then I headed down to check out some of the other DJ's. The last thing I remember from the evening is zoning out to some really good house music. I think I got one of the bike taxis to take me back to the resort around 4am, but I'm honestly not sure. I woke up the next day feeling a little worse for wear, but a lot better than Teal, who got in far earlier in the morning. I spent my last day in Thailand traveling around on my scooter taking a last look at nearby parts of the island, shopping for souvenirs, and enjoying my last of the amazing Thai food.
The next day was the predictably dull and frustrating 20 hours of travel back to Korea. In the end the highlights of my trip were the trips around the island on a scooter, amazing meals and some truly beautiful sights. The FMP was cool, but a little too spring break for my tastes. The areas we visited were a little too touristy for my tastes. I like to get into the culture and food more on a trip. But it was a good holiday, and it was a very welcome change from my routine in Busan.

I am dedicating this post to my friend Dave. A great friend I have found here in Busan. We are having Christmas dinner together with our girlfriends and I wouldn't have made this post if he hadn't lent me his laptop for the night.

I am posting this at 1 am Christmas morning, so to everyone out there, Merry Christmas! I hope you all have a wonderful time with your family and friends.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Why I haven't updated my blog

Thursday last week my laptop's A/C adaptor died. I have scoured Pusan for the last few days looking for a replacement. But so far I have had no luck. So I no longer have computer access at home. If I can't get a replacement I will have to get Dell to ship one out here. But that could take weeks. In the meantime I won't be updating my blog much. Although I will be checking my email when I am at work. The real downside here (apart from the fact that enormous parts of my free time are centered around my computer and the internet) is that it is the Xmas season and I can't contact people without my computer. If you want to get in touch you can call my cell phone. Incoming calls are free here (010 9168 0639). If you want to send letters or Xmas packages my work address here is:

J&K Bldg. 4F
Nam-Cheon 1-dong 17-2
Suyeong-Gu, Busan
South Korea, ㅜ 613-011
Unium College
Ian Koslow

If you note the little ㅜ sign next to the 613-011 (which is the postal code). You need to put a second horizontal dash hovering above the symbol. Make it slightly shorter than the horizontal dash that is already there. I can't figure out how to make the keyboard make the correct symbol at the moment.

Its better to send things to my work.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A good day and a bad day

Yesterday we took off on the scooters we rented and drove across the island. We stopped half way and climbed a small waterfall. It was a small 200 meter climb which finished at a really nice pool.

We took a swim and washed the sweat off and them climbed to a look out point which gave us a view of a third of the island.

After we got back down the hill we drove the rest of the way across the island. The original plan was to find one of the northern beaches which are well known for good snorkeling and diving. However, when we found a guy renting snorkel gear, he told us that because of the high tides and winds today, the water visibility was too poor. So we ended up just taking a swim and lying on the beach for a couple of hours. At least the beach was beautiful!

The evening was also great. The food on this trip has been great, but last night was really the highlight. For 8 dollars I got a whole Seabass, Panfried Thai style, with "three flavor sauce. Mmmmm!
The bad day is today. It started raining last night at about 2am and it has been raining on and off since then. I am sitting in an internet cafe right now watching monsoon style rain pour down. The Full Moon party is tonight, so the timing couldn't be better. Unlike Teal, the party isn't the highlight of the whole trip for me., but I was still looking forward to seeing one of the world's biggest parties in full swing. This weather will undoubtablymake for a somewhat smaller than usual event.
The real bummer is that I can't get my Korean bank card to work here. It has Cirrus and Maestro written on it, so I had assumed it would work fine. Stupid Korean banks! I should have enough to get me through the rest of the trip. But I will have to be careful and I won't be able to pay my share of the hotel until we get back home. It's not the end of the world, but it adds stress to what should be a relaxing holiday.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Koh Samui to Koh Phangan

Today we got a ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan. We decided to walk from the ferry to our resort, which ended up being quite a trek. On the map it only looked like 2km. But with the hills, twists and turns which the road took it ended up being a hour long uphill hike. Not the worst thing in the world, but not fun when you have a 15kg bag on your back. Anyway, we got to Blue Hills eventually and checked in. The resort is off the main beaches, which means that we don't have to deal with the noise and craziness of the Full Moon Party crowd. The party is in two more days but the town is already filling up and when we visited the beach around midnight there were already a couple of thousand people partying at the bars. It was a real meat market, and I wasn't drunk enough to appreciate it, so I didn't stay long. Besides, I don't really feel the need to party every night I am here. I have traveled a lot but this is the first vacation that I have taken that was all my own and not connected to family somehow. I have discovered that nice beaches, tanning and partying are not enough to keep me interested in my trip. I managed to talk my friends into hiring scooters so we could actually do some exploring. Unfortunately, we only got going in the mid-afternoon. But the scooters are only $6 for 24 hours, so we are going to hang on to them and tomorrow we are going in search of good snorkeling. I like the open-endedness of not planning to much of the trip. But I need more exciting and interesting activities. The best part of today was actually when we watched the sunset from the pool. I will post the pictures I took the next chance I get, but until then you will have to take my word that it was absolutely incredible. The pool virtually sits in the open air, with water filling to the brim and flowing over the edges in a waterfall. It looks out directly over the water and towards Koh Samui in the distance. The sun set over the water while we swam and drank Mango shakes.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A beautiful day

We arrived on the boat from Surat Thani at a little past 5 am. The boat ride didn't end up being too bad. I always stress out about sea sickness, but I took a motion sickness pill and slept through almost the entire ride. The boat was slow but more enjoyable than I expected. All the passengers were on the upper deck, which had a ceiling that was about 5 feet high. But that was ok because our berths were sleeping mats. We met a few different people and I had a nice chat with a German couple who have been traveling the world for 14 months.
When I woke up the boat was pulling into the dock. There were a number of vehicles which were waiting at the dock. One of them offered to take us to Lemai. Which is one of the more popular areas on Koh Samui. Eight of us got in the pickup truck. Four in the cabin and four in the back, confortably squeezed in with all the backpacks. It was actually a really nice ride, I was in the back with Teal, a Swedish girl and a New Yorker. We all chatted and enjoyed the scenery for the 40 minute ride, which included an island sunrise. The guy dropped us off at a place with cheap beach huts, but we decided to pass since they were nicely situated near some nasty looking standing water. So, instead we walked a kilometer further down the beach until we found a place with better beach huts. It was twice the price of the first place we looked at. But since twice the price only added up to $15 Canadian we didn't feel too hard done by :). I have attached pictures of my private little house on the beach and the view which it gives me.

Since we arrived at 5am, we have traveled across half the island, walked along a beach, checked into a resort, showered (which felt damn good after 27 hours of travel), walked further down the beach to eat breakfast 10 feet from the water, purchased swim short and sat down in and internet cafe. I did all that and it is only 9am as I write this.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

24 Hours to Koh Samui

I am writing this post from a little restaurant on the harbor front of the Thai city of Surat Thani. I just had a dish of chicken curry and a Singha beer. I am sweaty and tired, but I am feeling pretty good. I woke up this morning at 5am. At 5:45 I was out on the street walking towards the airport bus. Our flight from Pusan departed at 8:50 and we arrived in Bangkok 5.5 hours later. Unfortunately we had a 4.5 hour layover in the airport. We arrived in Surat Thani at 6:30pm local time. It turns out that its not much of a city to look at. however, we have decided that instead of getting a hotel room and taking a 2.5 hour ferry ride tommorrow to Koh Samui, we will catch a night ferry at 11pm. Its a sleeper boat which will get us to the island at 5am. I am planning to knock myself out with a couple of sleeping pills and hope that I don't get seasick. Going tonight means we get a full day on Koh Samui.
So, I started my day at 5am and I will arrive at my destination at 5am the next day. Its a 24 hour day of travel (26 with the time difference, but 24 hours has more style!) . Hopefully I will be able to find internet cafe's throughout the trip. So stay posted for frequent updates.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Finally going to Thailand

A couple of months ago I canceled my trip to Thailand because there was a coup the same day I booked my tickets. In the end the coup was bloodless, but I am still glad that I canceled the trip. Because now I get to go after the rainy season and with some friends. I am going with the other English teachers at my school, Teal and Jennifer. We all get along pretty well and a trip is always more fun if you can share it with friends. We are flying from Busan to Bangkok, and from their to the city of Surat Thani. We will spend a day in Surat Thani and then get a boat to Koh Samui for the next night. After our day on Koh Samui we will go to Koh Phangan. Koh Phangan is famous for two reasons. First of all it is the site of the Leonardo di Caprio film, "The Beach." If you have seen the film then you know how beautiful it is. Secondly, it is the site of the famous "Full Moon Party" which happens every month. Apparently, the party attracts 10,000-30,000 people every month depending on the season. It is held at Haad Rin beach and their is food, entertainment, more alcohol than you can shake a stick at and over a dozen DJ's from Thailand and around the world. I am not much for rave parties. But it sounds like a unique experience. We leave Saturday, (12/02) in the morning and arrive back the next Saturday. Surat Thani was the center of the Srivijaya Empire, which ruled much of the Malay peninsula and Java. So I will have the chance to explore Thai history as well as spending time snorkeling, swimming, eating and drinking.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Thanksgiving has never been the biggest holiday for me. Growing up in Australia we didn't really celebrate it much. During my time at York, Thanksgiving was actually a bit of a downer. I would always spend it in my university residence, since my family was thousands of miles away. Most people went home so it got very quiet and a bit lonely.
For better or worse, I have made choices in the last six years which have kept me far away from family. Being so independent has often made life a real adventure. However, at holiday time I am always reminded of the distance. Now that I am in Korea (where they don't even have the same holidays) holidays continue to be a strange time. However, the nice thing about being here compared to York is that everyone here is in the same boat. For my first Thanksgiving in Korea I went to the Seaman's Club. I went with some of my workmates, April (far right of photo) and Teal (next to April), as well as Dave and Ed (back of the photo) and their workmate Mat (far left). I hang out a lot with Teal, Dave and Ed. Although we had to have a Thanksgiving lunch because we work too late to eat dinner, it was nice to have a good group to celebrate with.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Very slack about posting

The last couple weeks I have been really slack and I haven't been updating as often as I should have been. Part of that is that there isn't much news to tell, and part of it is that I have been getting myself in to a routine which didn't include posting. That's not to say that the routine I have gotten into is a bad thing. I am not feeling the depression I was experiencing a couple of weeks ago. The new term has brought some improvements in my teaching situation and I am enjoying my classes more. I have also stopped trying to keep up my Hapkido/gym schedual. I enjoyed the Hapkido. However, to get to Hapkido on time I was having to get up before 9 am. Now to all of you working regular jobs in other countries that might not sound too bad, but it wasn't working for me. I leave work around 10:15 pm most nights. I get home and around 3 nights a week I go to the gym around 10:30-10:40. I leave the gym a little after midnight and then I have a small dinner. That means that I am not even finished my day until 1 am. So my average bed time is 2:30. Its late, but I get up the next day at 10:30 with a good 8 hours sleep. I spend my mornings relaxing, a cup of tea, a good breakfast. Sometimes I go out shopping or down to Gwangali Beach to enjoy the view and a coffee. Then I leave for work at 3:30. While I was trying to maintain my Hapkido I was getting just over 6 hours of sleep each morning I went. In the end it was a source of stress rather than exercise and meditation. So I decided I had to choose between the gym and Hapkido. I am having a lot of fun at the gym, and I am seeing some real results. Plus I have a nice friendship developing with the evening gym manager. So the choice was easy. If I stay on a second year in Korea and I have a job with a better schedule I might take up Hapkido classes in the evening. However, I have never been a morning person and it is a source of great joy in my life that I have found a job which means I never have to be one!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Busan Fireworks

Korea has a great deal of well deserved pride as one of the true Asian success stories. Everyone knows about Japan's remarkable post-WWII success. However, Korea's transformation is just as remarkable. South Korea did not get the support for rebuilding which Japan received after the war. It also suffered from the effects of the Korean war just 10 years later. Its first democratic elections were only 19 years ago in 1987. But in that short time the tiny country of Korea has become the world's 10 largest economy, with the second largest metropolis in the world, Seoul. Last year Busan was very proud to host the 2005 APEC summit. And this year, to celebrate the first anniversary of the event, they put on a spectacular fireworks display. I was told by one friend that the cost of the display was close to a million dollars Canadian. I went with Teal, one of the other teachers from the school. The fireworks were scheduled to start at 8 and we arrived at Gwangali beach at around 7:30.

It was a real madhouse. I will have to ask some of the Korean teachers at my school exactly how many people are supposed to have shown up. But the picture you see above is what the street looked like as we arrived at the very edge of the beach 30 minutes before start time. Gwangali beach is probably 2 -3 km long and the entire beach was like this. I would not be at all surprised to find out that we shared this experience with a million other people.

It took us from 7:30 till 8 just to find a place to see the fireworks. We were finally lucky enough to squeeze in to a great spot on one of the elevated tree planters. We got settled on our spot (right at the very center of the beach) only 5 second before the first fireworks went off. The picture above shows the view we had of the crowd on the beach itself. Everyone below us is on the steps to the beach and the beach itself. It really boggles the mind to imagine a crowd which is 2 km long and 100 meters deep.

The opening salvos were very impressive. The whole thing was choreographed to dozens of pieces of music, mostly classical, classic rock and a few love songs thrown in for good measure. Interestingly it was mostly English music. I really wished I had gotten a picture of the fireworks that accompanied one of the love songs. They had rockets which exploded into dozens of brilliant red flares which formed enormous hearts in the sky.

The whole event went from 8pm till 9pm and must have included more than 10000 fireworks. There were firework boats both in front of and behind Gwangali bridge as well as firework which were set off from the bridge itself. I remember during the 2000 millennium celebrations, many commentators said that the Sydney (Australia) fireworks, set off from the Harbor bridge were among the most impressive in the world. Having the bridge as both lighted backdrop, laser platform and launch pad, added enormously to the event. Especially since the Gwangali bridge is 7 km long.

The final crescendo was incredible, soaring classical music, enormous explosions and a million people cheering. I have posted a link at the bottom of this post to a movie of the last minute of the fireworks. Its not the greatest quality, because it was made with my still camera. Also it does not capture the hight of the fireworks or the noise they were making. But, it's still quite impressive and I hope you check it out and enjoy it.