Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Accounts of Typhoon Bolaven

The windows are rattling and the cats are sleeping soundly in the house of Joy. Typhoon Bolaven (태풍 볼라벤) has been blowing its hardest over South Korea since last night and bringing with it hysteria. However, as much as it is kind of silly watching Korean people get all up in arms about this severe weather, safety is usually a good idea. I recall a few years ago when windows blew out in the last typhoon while people were standing near them enjoying the typhoon scenery.


For the most part this typhoon hasn't been too grand or destructive. From what I can see and have walked through. However, it mostly disrupted the everyday schedule.

My school didn't allow the students to attend but teachers were made to come in. This caused many of the foreign staff to request to leave early and at one point people wanted to stage a "walk-out." Yet we were allowed to go at 12pm, and all was well. I'm imagining a lot of people got the day off today, which is a rare sight in Korea. Yet you can imagine we will be making it up at some point.


Last night the sunset was stunning as the sky was alit in lovely hues of pink and blue. The "calm before the storm" I suppose. When I walked to work today, as I tried not to get blown away, I noticed many people taped up "x's" on their window. In Florida people shutter their windows with planks of wood and hunkered down somewhere safe. I think the days of taping up one's window are over out there.


The sky this morning showed dense clouds moving swiftly, which are kind of fun to watch. For the most part I find this typhoon connects us all together. Whether we are at home or in the office, we all are sharing the experience. I hope everyone had a safe journey through Typhoon Bolaven...till next season.


A little action to leave you off with...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What I Ate in Damyang


While in Damyang I did my best to eat the local specialities. If you recall I was treated to some bamboo bread on my first arrival. After I ventured through the bamboo forest I was hot and wanted something to eat. So I walked around the city area of the town and found a mul naengmyeon restaurant (물 냉면).


I would say that there really isn't much I can compare mul naengmyeon with in America. Maybe gazpacho, the cold tomato-y soup. However, I have come to love this summertime treat and find it a very refreshing meal. The boiled egg on top is consumed first and then one works their way through the noodles and cold broth.

Damyang is well known for a certain Korean dish called tteok galbi. It resembles a hamburger patty just that the ingredients are somewhat different.

I have to say I could have picked a better restaurant as this one wasn't that great. I mean the food was wonderful, just I saw another restaurant around the corner that was more busy.


I have had tteok galbi before and every time I eat it I enjoy the charred parts that are salty and savory at the same time. My choice of side-dishes were ample yet seemed a little on the not-so-fresh side. I wonder if this is easy to make at home. Actually, now that I think about I've seen frozen versions in the meat department and fresh already-made ones ready to be grilled. Hmmm something to think about.


They are also famous for rice steamed in a bamboo cup, which I didn't manage to get as I flopped my order. However, I've had this before in Insadong and know what it's like.

Whenever you are traveling around Korea one of the best things is tasting the local specialities. That is one of the highlights of living in this country and which inspires me to get around more.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

First Week Back - Second Semester

The first week of the Fall semester has flown by, and was all right. I started things off by giving one of our homeroom teacher's a gift for her baby. It was a nice soft blanket I found at a baby store. She was very surprised to get it from me. This is her first baby and I thought I would give her a gift to celebrate such an occasion. Later on in the week she came up to me in the lunch room and told me that her son slept very well with the blanket I gave her.

We got our level testing done and unfortunately not much was changed in one class that needed it. However, the rest of the groups seem to be doing all right. A handful of students dropped out of my school, a few of which I was happy and sad to see go. There are some empty spots and I'm sure they will fill them up quick.

I am happy this semester because I have finished planning all my lessons for the whole year. This means I can sit back and let the regular paperwork flow in. I just need to make the materials for the following months (actually I'm caught up to October). Most importantly this gives me the ability to focus on this semester's big event, the drama festival. Since I'm the team leader I will be getting everyone ready and making sure it works out. Yet I have confidence in my team and it's pretty much straightforward after you practice for a few days with the kids.

Otherwise the second semester has a lot of vacation in it, which means it is a bit more relaxed. I just hope to give my students my best and be patient with the low levels. Already I've seen these students grow so much and it warms my heart to see their English has improved since last year. I hope I had something to do with that!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Pension in the Woods


For my stay in Damyang I went straight for a pension. Sure I could have saved a wad of cash by staying at a hotel or min-bak, but I wanted to treat myself to a kitchen, windows and space. After doing some research and with the help of a friend, I managed to find this nice pension not too far from the Bamboo Forest and bus stops.

I found the 대숲향기펜션 and the owner gave me a discout to stay there three nights, so the whole thing cost 300,000 for three nights. It was a good deal and I was excited to have my own little space in the countryside.


The pension was broken up into a side kitchen area, living room area and then a separate sleeping room with TV. There was no bed and instead I used a matt and blankets. I didn't mind this as most Korean beds are hard anyways.




I especially enjoyed the large window in the bedroom and reflected on the fact that the space was overall bigger than my current house. I suppose you could say I played "house" for a little bit there.

Most pensions you have to deal with the partying that goes on by other people staying there. But this one seemed to have quiet guests who had their BBQ and then went inside. I woke up to the sounds of birds chirping and a lovely sunrise in the clouds.

The outside area had a lawn, pond and a cage with bunnies inside.


They also had a cute dog tied up all day nearby, which I felt a bit bad for. So now and then gave it some fresh water.


The surrounding area, which I frequented as I went from the pension to the bus stop down the hill, featured rice farms and other countryside-sights. For instance, one person kept large dogs inside a cage all day, who enjoyed barking at anyone or anything passing by.





If you are thinking of heading to Damyang or want to get out of the city life and have a country-side experience. I would highly recommend this pension. Even for one person it didn't feel strange and the location is convenient. The owner doesn't speak English, but her husband does. However If you can't speak Korean enough have a friend help you out.

For directions:

Take the KTX down to Gwangju train terminal. From there get to the Gwangju Bus Terminal and take the 311 bus to Damyang.

Ride it till it gets to the last stop, which is the local university. Get off and head up the hill till you get to a large intersection with stop lights. Cross this and the pension entrance area is the first left. Head up this street and it's at the end.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Slow and Healthy: Slobbie Restaurant in Hongdae

I recently found myself in Hongdae with my friend at a vegetarian (yet had meat options) kind of restaurant. My friend has been staying with me these past few weeks as she is in between jobs and needs a place to crash. Her stay has been helpful towards some fun nights.

Anyways, she is a vegetarian and I figured why not find a suitable restaurant for her while she tags along with me to Hongdae for a haircut.

Using google I found the restaurant 까페 슬로비 (Cafe Slobbie). But pronounce the "slo" part like "slow", okay. Also I didn't bring my camera (it was a heavy rainy day), so you will just have to do with Instagram photos.


Located on a street nearby Hongdae station exit 9, instructions to follow, and up on the fifth floor is this oasis of a cafe / restaurant. Sure in Hongdae you can find cafes with sheep, sit amongst cats or even paint a small doll. But you would know that Hongdae is a crowded place with many young folks and couples taking up the space.

However, the interior of Cafe Slobbie was decorated with natural furnishings and had an open airy space.

The menu is broken up into lunch time selections and then meal time options (available after 5pm). Along with coffee, tea, alcohol and desserts. They had a lovingly tofu section on the menu and also a place that listed where they get their food. Nothing was spared and you could find out where they get their tofu from.

We ordered a tofu and black sesame dressing salad along with the sweet and sour tofu dish. Both tasted fresh, simple and satisfyingly tasty.

The tofu and black sesame dressing salad (above), was quickly devoured by my friend. Since I'm not a vegetarian I would say it had her approval. I for one enjoyed the fresh flavors and varying textures.


The sweet and sour tofu dish was a fun medley of fried tofu and assorted vegetables in a sweet and tangy sauce, which wasn't too heavy. I especially enjoyed the crispness of the cucumbers and carrots in the mix.

To get to this cafe head out of exit 9 from Hongdae station and make a left into the street area. Then turn right from the corner with the Dunkin Donuts on it and head up this street. Keep your eye out on the left side for the sign on the fifth floor. It's above an Olive cosmetic store.

If you are in Hongdae and have a craving for healthy and thoughtful food then come to this restaurant. The owner was nice enough to serve us a tasting of some makkoli that she said was unique. Also the place has for sale some handmade items and generally the atmosphere is very relaxed.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Soswaewon Garden (소쇄원)

On my second day in the lush green city of Damyang I decided to head into the mountains to see the Soswaewon garden. Somewhat of a famous landmark and I figured I would try and venture around beyond the city limits.


When you get out of Seoul and try your luck at traveling around the countryside you can end up in the middle of nowhere. This happened to me as I tried to bus my way to the garden location. Using my naver bus-map app I was told to get off at a certain bus stop, cross the street and transfer to the 2-1 bus. Well when I got across the street I noticed on the bus stop sign that it didn't list the 2-1 bus. I checked my app and tried to see if there were other bus stops around. But it seemed I was stuck out in the middle of nowhere. To boost the sidewalk made better use for drying crops than for letting pedestrians use them.

I turned around and looked at my prospects for help. There was a store selling only fish nets, and besides this a police station. I thought I was in luck seeing the police station, as throughout my life the police in this sort of situation have been helpful.

I walked into the police station and there behind the counter were 4 police men sitting comfortably with the air conditioner blowing on them. I asked them (in Korean) where was the bus I was looking for and gave them my hand written note of today's journey (with Korean on it). They chatted amongst themselves and then one of the officer's stood up and said, "Ok. You come with me."

The next thing I knew I was in a Korean police car being escorted to the garden site, while trying to keep my excitement down. He didn't put on his seat belt and neither did I. Throughout the ride I tried to talk to him but my Korean wasn't up to par. Anyways it was a fun ride and he did point out things along the way such as a grape farm and a lake. I got to hear radio chatter on his system in the car, and notice the difference in people driving around him.

He stopped at my destination and let me out, and we said goodbye. But this was by far one of the best experiences I have had in Korea and I'm sure gave him something to remember too.



Entering the garden you first pay a little fee then head up a hill where you see a small stream and more bamboo trees.



There really weren't many trail markers and I sort of just followed other people around to figure out where to go. However, it turns out this garden is compact and not really big enough to get lost in. It comprises of several structures, walls, a stream and of course gardens with budding trees.
Korean gardens are meant to be at harmony with the surrounding nature and follows a Confucian attitude built during the Joseon period.

So Yang made this garden to seclude himself from social position. The part of the garden was burnt down during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–1598), but the buildings were reconstructed by his descendants, and the present Sosweawon was renovated by Yang Taek-ji, Yang san-bo's descendant in the fifth generation. An 18th-century map of Sosweawon remains. It is carved on wood in the 31st year of King Yeongjo (1755), and shows the original design of the garden.


For the most part you enjoy walking up and down the dirt path along the stone wall. As you do so a variety of trees shade your way and traditional Korean structures peek above the walls. The bubbling stream that passes through is a soothing sound for sore ears. Yet you do enjoy this attraction with many other people, and I think I got there early enough to beat the huge crowds.





For the most part I saw families and couples enjoying a light snack or boxed lunch under pavilions. Babies got their picture taken in the stream, despite their protests.





Overall a lovely stop to visit when in Damyang, but don't make it your whole day's adventure as there isn't much in the surrounding area.



I noticed these ducks in the stream on my way back and considered that they were quite larger than the ones I see down in Seoul.



When I finished up with the Soswaewon Garden I decided to walk down the road to where the lake was, thinking there would be a trail or some kind of place to look out over the lake. However, I didn't find such a thing and the hot weather was getting to me. So I headed back to the nearest bus stop and tried my luck.

Along the way I walked past some lovely farmland scenery.


At the bus stop I used my bus-app again to figure out which bus to take to get me back to Damyang or someplace familiar. Thankfully a young lady was with me and she suggested taking her bus to Gwangju. I did just that and ended up in the city, had a bite to eat then headed home. It wasn't the most packed day, but I was feeling a bit beat and figured I would rest in the pension (which I paid for).

During my time in Damyang I enjoyed the amount of walking I did, especially when I got off at the last stop and walked up a sloping hill to my pension. Along this walk I passed a hanok village which was set in front of a lovely mountain scene. Mostly, all that walking was good meditation to clear the troubles that were on my mind from last semester.

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