Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Historic Weekend

We apologise for the length and delay of this posting. I worked on it on a number of occasions. Enjoy.

A few weeks ago we caught wind of a traditional rice cake and rice wine festival to be held in one of Korea's oldest and most historic cities, Gyeogju. Chelsie loves rice cakes and neither one of us wanted to pass up an opportunity to experience Korean culture.

Discovering new destinations, places and events to visit is easy, getting there, however, isn't always as easy as one might think. Not having a car here, it is necessary for us to use the bus system. Thankfully it tends to be quite reliable, although still not quite as comfortable as ones own vehicle. To get to Gyeogju we rode the intercity bus off of the island to Busan, took the subway through Busan and then hopped aboard another bus to reach our end destination, a five hour trip once everything was said and done. The city was bustling with festivities. We the information booths to be very helpful. After hitting a number of them we were able to attain a map in English as well as a schedule of events. We quickly realized that there was plenty to see and do in Gyeongju even without a festival.
The park in which the festival was held could be spotted from a distance by the kite line stretched almost out of sight.
Chelsie's mission for the weekend was to learn how to make rice cakes, of which there are many kinds. We were so fortunate as to be grabbed by the local media and taken into the rice cake exposition hall for some cake making on camera. A humorous experience.
They are beautifully decorated with edible flowers, predominantly pansies and azaleas.
The bonsai experience came with the festival as well. There were many different shapes and varieties on exhibit. Fascinating.
One of the activities for the kids was an origami art exhibit/booth. I believe that a local art academy was promoting their business. The kiddos would gather around tables and with uttermost concentration folding tiny origami pieces and then incorporating them into beautiful and complex scenes.

An interesting portion of the weekend and festival included the Miss Gyeongbuk pageant. A regional competition leading to Miss Korea. The ladies strutted their stuff in traditional costume, as well as formal and pop/trendy outfits. I believe there was a portion in which they introduced themselves. We didn't understand that of course.
After the evening contest and fireworks we took a taxi to the historic district of the city and went for a walk. The first historic site was the burial mounds for ancient kings of Korea. They were mounded up, or built somewhere between the 4th and 6th century A.D. There are many scattered throughout the city and in the mountains.
The second historic site was Anapji pond. King Munmu of Silla in his 14th year of rule had the pond dug. The temples were built and then later destroyed by Japanese invaders. After researching records and excavation of the site, the temples were reconstructed in 1975 to their original splendor.
It was recommended that we visit this setting at night. We were very glad that we did. The subtle lighting and faint sound of traditional Korean music really set the mood. It was very surreal.
Later on in the evening we passed the famous observatory, which to me it looked more like a grain silo that one may find in the Midwest. According to our guidebook, standing 30 feet tall, it is the oldest observatory in Asia. At one time a ladder went to the window and then one could climb in and onto the top to observe the heavens.
Chelsie and I were beat after the first day of sight seeing. We hiked back into town and found a tiny motel. The next day we took Bus number 11 out to see Bulguksa temple. Again, reconstructed to its original splendor, it is a masterpiece of temple design and construction from the Silla era.

We were some of the first tourists to arrive that morning. After about an hour we began to notice a humm of excitement as hundreds of children began to come and set up their easels and get out their paints. Within an hour the temple grounds were covered with kiddos painting the scenery. We found out that there was a competition in honor of the weekend.

It was difficult to get pictures of just the two of us or the scenery without catching a kiddo too.
The beauty of the maples left us intrigued and anxious for a return to Gyeongju in the fall.
We caught a brief traditional Korean meal in the town below.
The folk art village was alive with artists and artisans marketing their wares. Chelsie and I purchased some unique pottery and a couple of beautiful vases.

Although there are parts of Geyongju which have been reconstructed, there are some landmarks which are memorials. The World Culture Expo Park is home to a monument representing the location of the once magnificent 9 story pagoda. We took an elevator to the top of the monument for a splendid view of the area. We were very impressed by "Korea's best" and were very satisfied with our adventure off our little island of Geoje.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What's Going on in Gohyeon?

Spring is here. We have seen so many beautiful cherry blossoms, rhododendrons, and azaleas. We wanted to send a couple snapshots your way which would give you a better picture of everyday life as we know it. Time seems to fly. We are counting our eighth week in Korea.

Our city is very good about maintaining and landscaping. They have a number of small parks scattered throughout town.

The other side of the story is that there was literally nothing but agriculture and fishing villages here on Geoje island until about 20 years ago. The area expanded rapidly and was built very quickly and efficiently, therefore fancy architecture was not a priority. We are now just beginning to see some interesting buildings spring up.

The cause for this rapid growth on the island is the shipbuilding industry. This is Korea's largest industry and they rank 2nd in the world for production of oil tankers, and container ships. Our town, Gohyeon is the home of the 25,000 employee, Samsung shipyard. Other nearby towns are home to companies such as DSME and STX.

We really enjoy hiking in to the mountains above the city and watching the boats come and go out of the harbor. It is also an excellent view of the shipyards. Jesse is working on getting a tour.

An interesting part of our week is always going to the fish market to buy veggies fruit, fish, eggs, nuts, tofu, rice cakes, plants, and other unexpected items. It is what one would expect a foreign fish market to be like, I guess? Lots of fish splashing in and out of their buckets, lots of weird foods, lots of deals and bartering going down, and the occasional scooter pushing through the people.
Of course there are the items that we don't buy too: giant jars of ginseng, many forms and flavors of kimchi, squid, octopus, mushrooms, shellfish......etc. We have tried many of these but, it's best to let the Koreans barter for and cook the weird stuff.

Its fun to watch the fish jump from bucket to bucket, or out of the bucket. The vendors are always busy putting fish back in the right bucket.

Veggies, Veggies. They seem to be in season all of the time. Many come from greenhouses on the island, and the oranges come from nearby Jeju, the Korean equivalent of Hawaii.

There are many older, local women who sell greens that they raise and clams that they catch. I believe that they all have their own garden behind their house.
Because it is not recommended to drink the tap water, we were buying bottled water. The other day while exploring different trails on the island. We found a developed spring water fill up station. We learned that the city develops mountain springs for people to use. The stainless steel box has a pump which kicks on when you begin to fill your containers, and the water is UV sterilized. There are a number of springs on every hiking trail which people use, but we only use the developed one.
There are many items which we cannot or choose not to purchase in the market and for these we turn to the 8 story Home Plus. If you are up for a chuckle check out their 30 second video which is played throughout the store: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37wQj4jNTGw&feature=related Home Plus is much like any other super grocery store, except in Korean. They do have an extraordinary selection of rice, soy sauce, and green tea products.
We have been inspired to do some painting. There are so many cherry trees in bloom right now. Our walls are rather bare as well. We bought some water color supplies at the tiny store nearby and painted one evening. Jesse used some bamboo and fashioned them into wall hangings.

School has been fun lately, we are still enjoying it. We are bracing ourselves for another chunk of monthly tests and evaluations this next week. I think that we finally have all of the Sallys, Charlies, Marys, and Johns straight now. Jesse found this sweet PANDA HAMMER in the teachers room this last week.

The kids love to get hit on the head with it. It squeaks each time a blow is administered.
Easter has come and gone. Although it is not commercialized here we still celebrated it. Chelsie and I still got baskets from the bunny. We received hard boiled Easter eggs at church last weekend too.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Korean climbing

Throughout college, I have had a number of friends that I was able to climb with. We took many trips into Arkansas to camp, hike, and climb. Coming to Korea I wasn't expecting to be able to continue this sport like I have been. A friend and fellow teacher at ECC, Zach, has been very motivational in getting me out and grabbing some rock again. There are some beautiful spots overlooking the area.My first time out, Zach took me to a mountain on the southern part of the Island down by Gujora beach. We took a taxi and were able to make it there in a round about way. Zach's Korean language skills have about 10 months more experience than mine so he was very good at chit-chatting with the driver. A short hike upon arrival took us to a beautiful rock outcropping.

There were a number of bolted routes to choose from. We chose a "five-nine" named "Mong Tor"
Zach led the route to the first pitch and then belayed me up to the first anchor. We switched and I led the second pitch to the top of our 200 foot route.
Spectacular view. It is really fun to climb with someone as easy going as Zach.
Our first trip was a riot. Transportation for the return trip was not arranged so we had to leave plenty of time to get back to school. Bets were placed on how many cars would pass before we were picked up. Koreans are very good about picking up hitch hikers. We didn't look too threatening. Car 5 stopped and we were able to get a ride to the nearest bus stop. Its always an adventure.
The second time out we left the island the took an intercity bus to Tongyeong. Then took a taxi to the base of the mountain.

The climb was a bit more difficult this time. We chose a 5.10a "five-ten A" slab that looked pretty cool and gave it a shot. For those of you who are not familiar with the rating system routes are rated based on their most difficult portion, the crux. The American system scores routes with grades such as 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4...... and continues to 5.15 I believe. All ratings below 5.10 can have a (+) or a (-) and those above 5.10 have four gradations each given an a, b, c, or d. This climb was a was a beautiful slab with lots of tiny nubs and two fingered pockets.
The top of this route also yielded a fantastic view with rice fields and islands in the distance. Perched at the top of the 220 foot route, Zach pauses to meditate in his yoga spot. "Gnarly man!"
Someone had lots of patience and possibly some extra time on their hands. There were four beautifully built cairns at the base of the climbing site.

Hopefully you'll never catch me passing up an adventure in the outdoors. Gotta love em.