Almost 8 months

Trip Start Jun 29, 2006
1
17
23
Trip End Jun 26, 2007


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Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Thursday, February 22, 2007

The end of February is nearing.
I was never one for holidays, but working during the week you start to love national days that you have to have off of work! February has been pretty quiet, with more of the usual. We played some more poker, met some more of Kang's friends, and went out with a couple new Korean friends. Stephen had some of his students over one day and they "made" chocolate and went to Noraebang. They also gave us food - including strawberries, kimchi, triangle kimbap, and a plant! I made a lattice out of bamboo skewers and twist-ties this week to give the vines a place to grow instead of on our TV.

There was also Valentine's day. It's always interesting to see how other cultures celebrate holidays. Korea has a traditional day for lovers that is usually in the summer but young Koreans have really taken to Valentine's day. There are some notable differences from America though. First, V-day is a day for girls to give. Second, they give chocolate - not candy or cards. I gave a number of my classes Hershey's kisses my parent's had sent me and I made little treat bags for the other teachers. A number of my students gave me some chocolate, ranging from just one little piece/sharing their own to whole bars! It was cute. Pepero day was much cooler though. I also made sure to give some chocolates to some boys (the ones that I like!) that used to be in my classes but aren't anymore.

The day after all the sweets was the University of Ulsan's graduation. I got a phone call from Hyunggun the night before asking me if I would be coming. You can pretty much guarantee that if Sexy man invites me to something I am going to go. I hadn't seen him since November and now that he's in Seoul I wasn't going to miss my chance. I showed up at graduation, shocked by all the flower vendors set up at the gate. The fancy lawn was a sea of black. Black hair, black suits, and black gowns! I ran into Yoonsoo leaving but I couldn't find anyone else. Soon enough I spotted Brandon's brown hair and was in luck. He was with Kang and Sangjae. We managed to call Hyunggun shortly after. I saw Sangjae's parents, and then we met with Youngin, who I hadn't seen since Christmas. I got to see her parents and brother as well. Yuran showed up a few minutes later and we even found Suok. We spotted Chaerin and managed to snap a few pictures. Not graduating but there none-the-less were John, Ballack, and Tom. It was a lovely day for an outdoor graduation! Koreans do graduations a lot like they do modern-style weddings. Everyone arrives, many right on time or late... and while the ceremony is performed at the front (in this case, only involving the heads of the school and departments) everyone mills around dressed up, talking and visiting. Before you know it the ceremony is done and somehow everyone notices. Then it's time for pictures and eating!

The latest excitement was this past weekend. While most Americans would refer to the holiday as Chinese New Year, it is really just Lunar New Year, celebrated by many Asian nations. Korea is one such place! Called Seollar, it is the most important holiday in Korea, followed closely by Chuseok (the harvest/Thanksgiving holiday in the autumn). Many Koreans visit their parents or grandparents to have the traditional ceremony to remember the ancestors. This means there are special foods and preparations to be made so that the family can wear Hanbok (traditional clothes) or new clothes preferably and bow/pray to the ancestors. Young Koreans are usually given money by family members at this time -quite a range of money for I have students who received $5 and many reports of $200 or more! Brandon, Stephen, Melissa, and I were invited to Kang's house for a Seollar celebration. His father is currently out of town on business and so his mom did a very simplified ceremony in the morning. We arrived in the afternoon for some tteokguk (rice cake soup) which probably the most important food on Lunar New Year. We were served a plain broth with rice cakes and were able to mix in ground meat, roasted seaweed, sesame seeds, and egg gidan to suit our own tastes. After lunch Kang broke out the yutnori sticks. A traditional Korean game, it is kind of like dice, except with four wooden sticks. Each player tosses the sticks into the air and moves pieces around the board based on the combination of how the sticks land. It is actually quite simple and fun - pretty much based completely on luck! After we got the hang of it, we played boys vs. girls for money (Kang's sister joined me and Melissa), but unfortunately we lost! (For more information on yutnori, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yutnori)

After the game we decided to head down to the river for some fun and air. Brandon brought his new Ess board, a sort of skateboard that swivels in the middle. They are very popular with the kids and he figured it would be a cool purchase and a good hand-me-down to his cousins at home. We played some badminton and then strolled along the river, down and through the bamboo forest before walking back. We saw quite the gathering of people at the soccer fields - the women were singing and playing traditional New Year games and the men were preparing to play soccer. Back at Kang's we watched some X-Files before Kang started preparing dinner. I don't remember what he called it, but we've had something like it before. We were served a variety of meats, vegetables, and fruits and given rice paper to wrap it in. There was chicken, beef, shrimp, mushrooms, carrot, cucumber, egg gidan, pineapple, asian pear, and two sauces. It was so tasty. Afterward we had green tea and some sweets. Kang's father called from Qatar and I was so honored to get to talk to him!
We sat around and talked for a long while before deciding to leave Kang for some peace. We knew most things would be closed so we tried Benchwarmers, the foreigner bar in Shinae... but it was closed! We popped into McKenzie's to check it out but opted to head back to Brandon's after one beer. There we spent the rest of the night playing poker and discussing many things.

Everybody had Monday off (usually they get two days off for the New Year but since it fell on a Sunday they only got one weekday). Melissa, Stephen, and I headed across Ulsan towards Bangojin. We rented some skates and tried our luck at ice skating. Stephen's luck ran out fast - his skates were not good and he called it quits after one loop. Melissa and I fared better and I even managed to stay on my feet the entire time, even with the crazy Koreans all around me. They skate kind of like they drive - a little less scary but just as unpredictable! We hopped the next bus towards the beach and wandered around in the sun before making the trip back into town. We met up with Brandon and most of the AIP Koreans still around for dinner. Yuran, Sangjae, Suok, Insuk, Sunjoong, and Urara all came! Sangjae and Suok both got jobs in Seoul and were headed out the next day to apartment hunt. Sangjae snagged an engineering job with a German company and should be making a trip to Germany sometime during his first year! How exciting.
Brandon had to work on Tuesday, so Melissa, Stephen, and I spent our time taking a day trip to Busan. To be honest, our purpose was to get Mexican food. No joke. We ended up catching an afternoon showing of Bridge to Terabithia (which none of us has ever read), met up with Melissa's friend Hugh, eating Vietnamese and Mexican food, and visiting a bookstore with a little but nice English section. It was my first time to have anything resembling Mexican food in over 7 months and it was so incredibly delicious. The Americans have pretty much all agreed that we'll go straight for some Mexican food upon returning home. It's so ironic. My chicken burrito was such a delight. Who knew a tortilla, lettuce, sour cream, salsa, and beans could make someone so happy. I picked up a book called "Freakonomics" at the bookstore and am excited to read it as soon as I finish my delight "Sarum" which should be this weekend. I have less than 100 pages to go (it's over 1000) and it has become one of my favorites. Why I love a book about the history of England so much is a mystery but I do. Oh yes, I also drank my first cup of real coffee on Tuesday. Hugh likes coffee and so he brewed us some Folger's when we visited his apartment (which I love). A lovely Tuesday off of work.

This week is another ridiculous sort of week. Only three days - which means there isn't a whole lot of regular teaching going on. Oh well. So far it's gone well enough, although tomorrow I am going to attempt to make all my classes do 15 minutes of studying before any games, which will be an interesting challenge. I found out today that our academy's hours are changing next week - not by much. We'll start and finish twenty minutes later. I don't think anything else is changing, but then again I never know anything for sure! Next week is Korea's independence day, and supposedly (as of a month ago at least) all the school staff is going to Jirisan for a day of hiking. I'm not holding my breath! All the kids go back to school next Friday, pretty much without break until summer break in August. It feels like they've been on vacation forever!

I've just finished baking some chocolate chocolate-mint chip cookies and now it's time to take care of the dishes. My roommate isn't home from his GRE studying with Brandon yet, but I don't want there to be a sink full of dishes when he does. It felt really good to bake. I'm almost as excited about sharing the cookies tomorrow.

Happy Lunar New Year!
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