Monday, August 15, 2011

감 사 합 니 다 - Thank You!

             It’s been almost two weeks since leaving Korea and I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an adjustment period back to American life. Being home feels great but at the same time I will certainly miss the daily activities that took place in Korea. The hardest part of adjusting was getting off a diet heavy in rice and cabbage and getting back into eating breads and drinking milk. For the first few days I could barely eat half of my Cheerio’s before going to work. In Korea we started work at 8am and in California I am at my desk before 6:30am, I definitely like the Korean hours more.
The flights home were pretty smooth and I flew business class on the new Singapore Airlines, Airbus A380. The seats were actually too big and they forced you to sit on an angle while watching the TV directly in front of you. The A380 was the long haul flight from Tokyo to LA but first I had to get from Busan to Tokyo on Japan Airlines. Japan was very comfy and they had some very exotic sushi and seafood for my meal. It was not that big of a deal to eat one more mystery meal before going home to LA.
JAL Lunch

The only identifiable items were white rice, Miso soup, and buckwheat noodles

Singapore's new A380

Business Class Cabin

Awkward, off-center footrests

A Singapore Sling to start the flight

Flying into LAX. The Channel Islands are off to the left

The same plane but for a different airline

            When I came home my plan was to surprise Courtney because she thought I wasn’t going to be home for a few weeks. She had a softball league happy hour about 30 minutes away in Pasadena and I had every intention of getting home around 4:00pm and then meeting her and her team for a fun night of socializing around 6:00pm. My plan went sour from the start when I walked through my apartment door. My car keys were not in the same place as I had left them and I soon realized she had them in her car. Thinking on the fly I emailed her that something happened in Korea and I needed to talk to her right away. This would mean she’d come home early from the happy hour so we could talk online. I never told her what happened, just that I needed to talk. Unfortunately at around 8:30pm when she walked in the apartment door and I yelled, “Surprise!”, she burst into tears. 50% was excitement I was home and 50% was sadness that I had made her so nervous by saying I needed to talk but never telling her about what.
           They say that Disneyland is “The Happiest Place on Earth” and it should also be known that Korea is “The Nicest Place on Earth”. Koreans should take great pride in the kind and welcoming personalities they have as well as what they have accomplished in their small country. Not once in the past three months did I ever feel unsafe, unwelcome, or unclean while living in the Korean culture. Coworkers, hotel employees, waitresses, and taxi drivers really seemed to all go the extra mile to guarantee my smile. The white background of the Korean flag stands for cleanliness and I believe this has a much deeper meaning than just clean sidewalks. Insides and out Koreans are a very clean and pure culture that wants to better themselves by helping those around them. My college fraternity, Theta Chi, stands for a Latin phrase that means “Helping Hand”. In addition to all the Soju and Hite beer, all of Korea really felt like college because of how outgoing and accommodating the citizens were.
Thanks Korea for such a great visit and please keep in touch if you are ever planning to visit America. It would be a dream come true to play a round of golf outside in California or to spend a day at the beach with all of the great friends I’ve met west of the Pacific Ocean.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mother Nature

           Two famous nature attractions in Changwon are the Rose Park and the Junam Wetlands. About halfway to work there is a peaceful park filled with thousands of roses, all different colors. This was a great place to surprise Courtney near the end of her visit. By the looks of the park only about 50% of the roses were in bloom either because of the recent high temperatures or maybe different roses flower at different times of the year. Regardless of reason, there were more than enough flowers there to look at.

"Jong Mi Gong Won" is Korean for Rose Park
The park center

The coolest rose in the park

A stone path with varying textures. Koreans will walk on these barefoot as they believe different pressure points on their feet are related to body organs.
            About 15km west of the hotel at the very edge of Changwon is the Junam Wetlands. These wetlands are famous for the migratory birds that stop there as they continue to their next destination. The wetlands were vast and also a very peaceful sight. There was a cool two story lookout tower to climb for a better viewing angle that even had five or six tourist telescopes to look through and identify birds. Unfortunately there weren’t many birds there but on the other side of the road was a very large lotus field. The lotus’ were in bloom and gigantic. Never before have I seen such large petals on a flower.
Junam Wetlands

Lotus city

Courtney matched with the Lotus'
            Both nature scenes helped to show that although Korea is constructing so many buildings and roads they still respect the land they live on. Roughly 70% of Korea is mountains and with my guess another 15% is for growing rice. With such little land to actually settle on, Korea really goes the extra effort to make sure their surroundings are beautiful and a good escape from their hardworking daily lives.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Packing Heat in Changwon

            On Saturday the weather outside was perfect for going to the shooting range. Min Gu and Jongil picked me up at the hotel and we drove to the Changwon Firing range where we met up with their boss, Sung-Keun Kang (Mr. Kang) and his two kids. His son, Jeng Ug Kang, is a high school student and his daughter, Da Hyun Kang, is in middle school. As excited as I was to shoot some clay pigeons, it was just as much fun meeting another Korean family.
            We all decided to shoot clay pigeons and paid W22,000 each for a rental 12 gage shotgun, 25 shells, and 25 clay pigeons. Due to the weight of the gun for a young girl, Da Hyun shot an impressive ten rounds before the men all stepped up to the range to shoot our 25. All lined up at the same time there were orange discs flying in front of us nonstop for a good five minutes. Out of the 25 shots, Jongil was in first place with 17 hits, I finished second with 14, and the rest of the crew came in under 8.

Da Hyun shooting her targets

About an hour after taking this picture I was ready to ice my shoulder

The rental shotgun

We made a mess

The shooting gang
            After shooting we went to the neighboring college, Changwon National University, for some food and drink at the pub. The pub was outdoors on a hill and was more like a campground than a bar. The older Koreans ordered a range of food while I talked with Da Hyun and Jeng Ug as they spoke English perfectly. As usual, we had way too much food and by the time the afternoon came to an end I was full and ready for a nap. Getting to go to the range was on my list for a long time and luckily I was able to squeeze it in during my last days in Korea.

Fried kimchi and tofu

Spicy pork and vegetables

Meel Myen (Spicy, cold, thin spaghetti soup)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lost in Translation

Below are some funny Korean to English translations observed over the past three months:
"Beautiful woman salad"


"Rip eye"

Double Whammy


The slogan for the local pizzeria

Buddha, Buddha, Buddha, Buddha, rockin' everywhere

          One day a few weeks ago we hopped in our car and drove about an hour northeast to Yangsan for another Korean temple, Tongdosa. This Buddhist temple was founded in 646 AD and means to communicate and to save suffering people through truth. The main temple grounds were located about a mile into the forest and the eerie road that led to it was lined with pine trees that only had needles at the very tops. There were too many trees for a human to have done this and it added to the secretive and holy atmosphere of Tongdosa.

View Larger Map
                                                                               Pt. A is the Hotel, Pt. B is Tongdosa

           The first area of the temple was a fancy graveyard that was marked with many names to show all of the local monks who have passed away. After the graveyard was a large decorative sign leading people onward to the actual temple grounds. Much like the other temple Bulguksa, Tongdosa had four warriors in the guard building that all people must pass through to enter. When leaving many Koreans were bowing to these guards in thanks for their protection.
The graveyard and other relics

Gigantic entrance

Hand carved totem poles

Stone totem poles. One is a man who offers peace and protection from the sky and the other is a woman who offers peace and protection from the ground.

My favorite picture of the day

With two of the four guards
           Inside the main area there were over ten different temples with different sized Buddha’s all symbolizing something different. Monks were walking around praying as well as normal citizens. Each temple varied in size and appearance. Some temples were constantly refurbished while others had what looked like the original paintjob from hundreds of years ago. Outside the main temple grounds there were over a dozen satellite temples accessible by car or hiking paths and a very peaceful stream. This was a very relaxing place to spend the day in Korea.
A two-story alarm clock

A temple without restoration

Three monks

Buddha and the bags of rice that were offered to him that morning

The largest temple at Tongdosa

Just before I saved Courtney's life

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

            On Sunday afternoon, July 17th, we all went to a long awaited baseball game in the neighboring town of Busan. Busan is the second largest city in Korea and home to the Lotte Giants, one of eight Korean baseball teams. Lotte is the name of a Korean shopping store much like Target in America and the other teams are also corporate names such as Kia, LG, and Samsung. The Lotte Giants were playing the LG Twins of Seoul.
            Before getting to the stadium Ashley (Ed’s daughter who was also visiting), Courtney, Ed, and I drove to Changsoo Lee’s house in another section of Busan. Traffic was lighter than normal so we took the elevator to the 23rd floor and surprised him and his family at their front door. After a quick tour of his apartment we were back on the ground and walking to the subway. The Subway was about 800m from his house and another 800m after getting off at the stadium. It was very hot outside so the air conditioned subway was a great way to relax before the game.
Waiting for the next train
One of the four major subway lines
            Outside the stadium there were almost a hundred vendors selling food and drinks to bring inside. The food ranged from fried chicken to sushi to pizza. The drinks were the typical assortment of water, beer, or soju. W 10,000 later I had my ticket in hand and was walking into the stadium. For a $10 ticket I was convinced I’d be at the top of the bleacher seats but we were right off third base about 20 rows up. Walking up to our seats there were people selling newspapers that had nothing to do with baseball for only a few pennies. The fans tear the papers and make little cheerleading pom-poms with them.
Outside the stadium
Unju (Min Gu's friend from college) and her newspaper pom-pom
            The Samsung employees went off to purchase the group some beer and drinks and they came back with quite the surprise. For themselves they bought fried chicken and for us Westerners we were given pigs feet. The bones were removed and the feet were sliced into ¼” thick rings, skin and all. They were pretty tasty but very fatty. Some Hite beer was passed around and it was game time.
Pigs Feet
I gave Jongil a $1 tip for handling the food and drinks all game. It was the first USD he'd ever seen.
            Along first baseline there were cheerleaders for the Lotte Giants that sang and danced all game. Behind us on third baseline there was the LG cheering section and they had some drums and whistles to show their support. It took some time to get used to the soccer-game style, drumming chants and the random whistles. The stadium was smaller than an MLB stadium and reminded me of a AAA stadium with seats in the outfield. Along the stands there were tall, thick nets so the only way a fan could catch a ball is if it went at least 30 feet high before going out of bounds. The nets obstructed the view of the game and also took some getting used to. The seats didn’t face the infield; they were perpendicular to the foul line, so in order to see the batter a good 30 degree neck turn was in order.

Home Plate

The scoreboard
             The fans for both teams really get into the game. Not a single home run was hit all game but if a blind person were watching the game they’d think the score was in the hundreds. Foul balls, pop-fly’s, and grounders all got the same level of attention as an MLB grand slam. When the game was in the later innings and it was time to call in a relief pitcher, the Lotte Giants drove him from the bullpen to the pitchers mound in a Mini Cooper. I thought it was a special 7th inning stretch gimmick, never did I expect it to be driving the pitcher to the field. At this point the Samsung crew left to get us “popcorn” and returned with dried squid. They showed us how to eat it and it was like seafood jerky only ten times chewier than any beef jerky in America. After three strips of squid my jaw was too tired to keep chewing.  To help clean up after the game they hand out a ton of plastic bags that are the home teams color. The fans blow them up and wear them as hats for the last few innings. Think of it as a korean rally cap.
Excited for my popcorn

My jaw was feeling it on this piece of squid

The relief pitcher and his Mini Cooper

Rally hats
The gang

The gang with our rally caps
     The Giants ended up losing but just getting to see a Korean baseball game made it worthwhile. After the game we took the Subway back up to Chang Soo Lee’s apartment and all conversed over some Korean fried chicken and adult beverages. Sunburned and tired from the baseball experience I slept like a baby that night.
Courtney and I in Masan, the town next to Changwon, the day before