Friday, January 21, 2011

Hungry? Have a Fish Snack!

I recently took an extra job with the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education (DMOE) to lead English conversation classes with secondary English teachers. The job is at the DMOE Mount Palgong training center. Mt. Palgong (or Palgongsan in Korean) is rather from my little neighborhood so my morning commute for January has expanded significantly from the 4-minute walk to school to an hour long bus ride across town.

The bus is provided by DMOE and I catch it down the street near Bisan-negore (Bisan junction). I normally head toward Seomun Market and downtown when I leave my house so my morning walk to the other side of my neighborhood provides me with new sights everyday.

My morning walk has introduced me to new restaurants and stores near my home I never knew were there. I've also found small street markets. But the best thing I discovered happened upon me this past Thursday morning. It was very cold, about 17 degrees as I walked down the road sipping fresh French Press coffee from my new travel mug Shannon gave me as a Secret Santa gift. I noticed a few drying racks up ahead with what looked like dirty latex gloves hanging from them. I thought this was rather strange but I have stopped questioning such things in Korea.

As I drew closer, the dirty gloves began to take on more shape. I now saw there were three racks filled with these odd-looking, dirty objects. I then realised exactly what was hanging in the cold morning air by colorful clothes pins: fish. Lots of fish.

Hmm, where should I put my bike? Oh! I know! In between all those drying fish over there.

Koreans have an unusual affinity for dried seafood. You can find stands peddling various types of desiccated marine life outside of movie theatres, offering cinema-goers a salty, crunchy fish-snack in lieu of popcorn as a mid-flick snack. A stroll through any market or grocery store will greet you with bins brimming with tiny dried fish, which, to my chagrin, make their way into far too many Koreans dishes.

Though I am unfortunately extremely familiar with the ubiquity of dehydrated squid, octopuses, and little fish in Korea, this early morning surprise hit me as one of those poignant "This is Korea" moments. I tend to forget where I am, what I'm doing, and that I am so far away from home. Despite my constant use of "ne" and "annyong-haseyo," the frequency which I see and eat kimchi, and the fact that I can never buy shoes due to my large, American-sized feet, I sometimes forget I live in Korea. It's little things like fish on a clothes line at 7:30am that brings me back to my current reality. This is, after all, Korea.

Getting My Dog Fix - Volunteering with KAPS

I miss my puppy at home so much. I miss going home and being able to cuddle and just hang out with my dog, Brie. I feel a little lonely in Korea without canine companionship, despite all of my lovely friends and my insanely busy schedule. But jet-setting and an active social life isn't conducive to having a dog of my own here in Korea. I also am unsure where I will head after Korea, so this even further complicates my having a dog. But I found a solution, one that provides me with plenty of puppy love and allows me to give my time to a good cause.
Brie and me at the Red River Gorge
Enter KAPS, Korean Animal Protection Society. There are 2 centers here in Daegu - right behind each other - one for dogs, one for cats. Trying to make good on my New Year's resolution to volunteer more in general and give more of my time to helping animals, I contacted the lovely people at KAPS and began giving some of my time to helping out these precious but homeless creatures. Volunteers can walk, groom, or just play with the dogs at the shelter. There are dogs of all breeds and sizes, from beautiful Golden Retrievers to tiny, adorable Maltese (and of course, a whole lot of Shih-tzus).

The shelter is open 7 days a week from 10am-7pm (but they are out for lunch from 1-2pm). The shelter needs volunteers for walking/grooming/playing, for donations (there is a wish list on the website and Facebook page), and especially for fostering. Fostering is a big commitment, as it isn't a temporary pet but a means to help nurse a dog back to health or teach a dog how to be a proper pet. The volunteer coordinators at the center are happy to meet with you if you think this would be your cup of tea. There are also other options if you are willing to give more time to bigger projects.

And if you think you are ready to commit to giving a dog or cat a forever home, please consider going to shelter to find your next best friend. The adoption and neutering/spaying fees are much cheaper with KAPS than they would be with a pet shop or regular vet! The majority of dogs are very sweet and very well-behaved (and many are trained!). Please consider these sweet animals for the next edition to your family.
This darling puppy is very sweet and full of energy! If I could take home a dog right now she would be mine in a heartbeat!
This Maltese clung to me immediately. His hair was grown completely over his eyes and he had a bit of an eye infection. But I cleaned him up some (this is a post cut picture) and gave him eye drops. When I went to the shelter on Wednesday he was gone! And now has a home with a Korean family. :)
This little baby is so sweet and now has a forever home with a Korean family!
Another Maltese at the shelter I took out and played with on Wednesday. He is very sweet and playful - always rolls on his back to get a tummy rub!
If you miss your pets from home or would just like to give your time to a good cause, head over to the Daemyoung Metro Stations (Red Line/Line 1, Exit 1) make a u-turn and walk for a minute - the shelter is on the left. The puppies would be very happy to see you!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Plunge: Woobang Tower Sky Jump

Woobang Tower (or Daegu Tower) defines the skyline of Daegu, South Korea. The tower is part of the Woobang Land amusement park complex and rises 202 meters above the city. The tower offers excellent views of the valley city, the fourth largest in Korea. It also offers the opportunity to hang suspended from a ramp jutting from its side and 123 meter drop to the ground. So of course, I had to do it.

A few of us decided to head to Woobang Land near Duryu Park on Saturday to take the leap. We made the obligatory Family Mart stop after a night out to quench our thirst and provide ourselves with the necessary caffeine to wake up. Then up the steep hill to the tower. The tower offers a few attractions, including a Western style restaurant, a bar, and some sort of sexual education center for kids (of course all of these things go together perfectly). But none of these things were of interest to us. We finally reached the observation deck level with Sky Jump tickets at the ready. After taking in the panoramic views of the city and after my trip to the "Sky Toilet" (which gives patrons an opportunity to use the restroom while enjoying the skyline of Daegu), we headed over to the Sky Jump desk to suit up.

Entrance to the Sky Toilet! Toilet of the Skies!

The moment I traded in my ticket in for a brightly colored sky suit, I could feel all of the focus in the room rerouted to me and my fellow jumpers. We were making the plunge and everyone was fascinated by our choice. One little boy, whose English was superb ("I lived in the US for 5 years. California and Michigan!") approached the group to voice his amazement at our choice. "Do you have parachuting experience?" he asked. When I replied I didn't his face reflected the intense worry he was experiencing. But I felt no fear.

The team!
Once completely suited and harnessed up we mozied over to the ramp leading into the Daegu air and to the ground below. The many Koreans visiting the observation deck of Woobang Tower crowded into the area near the ramp to watch these brave three foreigners jump off their local landmark. After taking a group picture on the platform, as the volunteer pioneer, it was my turn to hook-in and jump-down. Before I made my way to the end of the platform, I turned to see the huddle of spectators watching eagerly for my fall - peace signs and waves abounded and I felt the love and edge of nerves emanating from the crowd.

Two big thumbs up over Daegu.
As I let go of the ropes to hang suspended from 123 meters of Korean-built edifice, I spun around to look at the man with the camera to snap my moment of glory before heading straight down to the awaiting ground below me. I flashed a wide smile and heard a, "goodbye!" as I felt the air rushing around my body and I saw the target on the concrete below grow closer. Then my few seconds of adventure were over as my feet hit the ground and I felt a pain shoot up through my lower legs from the impact. The Korean catcher at the target didn't slow my fall as soon as he should have but I was safe on my two feet and the pain subsided fairly quickly.

I made my way to a bench near the target and watched as my comrades leapt as I just had. Down came Jez, then Dave followed. We giggled and discussed our latest conquest as we walked toward the elevator to return to the observation deck. (Yes, we have to take the elevator back up - this fact was fairly disconcerting to the little boy when we reached the top again.) We exited the elevator and as we un-suited the little boy from before came sprinting over to hear all about our jump:

"I am very jealous!"
"It wasn't so bad, there is a guide-wire so it isn't a free fall. You could definitely do it!"
"But I'm not tall enough..."
"You will grow! You're young - ask you parents for you next birthday."
"I don't think I can grow 15 cm in one year."
"I bet you can. Drink your milk!"
"Maybe. See you later!"
"Good luck!"

I am glad I made the plunge off of Woobang Tower - one other thing to check off on my bucket list. It wasn't terrifying but it was fun. It wasn't the jump I had expected, as there was no free-fall and it was a very reigned-in jump but we had fun, and now we have a story to tell. When I relate the story to Koreans I meet they are shocked that I would do something so bold, but in retrospect it really wasn't so adventuresome, considering the other experiences I have under my belt. It is a step, though, and I plan to bungee jump before I leave Korea. I love the feeling when your stomach catches in your throat as you make a leap. Updates to come if I make it down that road. But until then, I have the photos and experience of jumping off one of the tallest buildings in Daegu and it was definitely worth every won.

If you want to take the plunge off of Woobang Tower, head over to Woobang Land (accessible from various buses, the subway, and taxis across Daegu), head up the hill toward the tower and ask for Sky Jump. Tickets must be purchased around the ground level (from what I could see). A jump will run 40,000 won and if for some reason you get cold feet after purchasing a ticket, you can come back within 30 days (I think) and re-challenge yourself. Then head up a few floors and enjoy an ice cold Corona or a 5,000 won cup of coffee while taking in the best views of Daegu you can catch within the city. Godspeed!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Hot Water Debacle

As many are aware, I lacked an air conditioner for the first week or two in Korea. Normally this wouldn't be such a horrible ordeal but Daegu gets HOT in the summer. But thanks to my perseverance and my wonderful co-teacher, we managed to get an AirCon unit installed fairly quickly. This thing is going to save my life come May.

With summer gone and winter very much set in, I thought climate control was the least of my problems. I was sure that the majority of my tribulations would derive from Winter Camp lesson planning, planning for upcoming vacations abroad, and coming up with new ways to alleviate the aftermath of soju. I was mistaken.

My Mom paid me a visit from the states over Christmas. We spent the first weekend in Seoul then headed back to Home-Sweet-Daegu for a few days before jetting off to Japan for the Christmas holiday. I was certain that my 4 days of work would go off without a hitch - only 2 days of training and 2 days of Winter Camp at another school. Manageable enough, even though I was sharing a bed and tiny apartment with my Mom and 2 large suitcases. Then the hot water went out.

I had my lovely coteacher phone my landlord to fix it - he griped a bit, sure that I was positively inept and couldn't toggle the Korean controls properly (despite the fact that I'd been doing this rather expertly since September). He dropped by the apartment and said something about "replacing the water" (to which no one could make any sense of) and the water seemed to heat up nicely for the next day or so. Or so I thought until my Mom proclaimed the harrowing morning she had in my bathroom. Casting away her normal conceptions of a shower (she has a very very nice shower at home, with fancy shower heads and marble and glass and, well, it's all very new and nice and stylish), she began her morning routine with acceptably hot water. Then after a minute, the water went icy. Thankfully this was the last day in Daegu before I was to be spirited to a week in hotels.

Then I came home to find my apartment sans heat sans hot water. I made up for the lack of heat inside with a space heater and electric blanket my Mom (oh so thankfully) purchased for me at Homeplus. But then there was the water issue. This continued for almost a week, during which I showered at my gym behind my house. This was not my ideal way to start my 7am days - scrubbing up with a couple other naked Korean ladies, sometimes singing songs and vigorously cleansing their lady parts. I just sucked up though - I really needed to wash my hair. Then finally, after multiple visits to my apartment messing with the same buttons, arguing that this foreigner didn't know what she was doing, and tossing about threats of moving, my landlord begrudging installed a brand new boiler in my apartment.

My water heats up to scalding temps now and keeps my apartment suffocatingly hot at times, which is just fine with me!

Moral of this story: Speak up, be persistent, and don't back down if you have a pressing issue.

As waygooks, foreigners, we are told to deal with our problems oh so gingerly - ginger to the point of ignoring our problems for the "greater good." In short, we are told to shut up and pick our fights with extreme care. There is some wisdom to this but in many instances it is complete and utter crap. I have a friend who battled giant mold growths in her apartment while others have had similar hot water issues and they were waved away with a "water doesn't get as hot in Korea as it does in America." It is true, if your battle is a small one (yes, you should just go ahead and clean your classroom if asked), it is a bad decision to ruin rapport by badgering someone about it. This holds true in ANY country! But in Korea, if your heat doesn't work, your pay is consistently late, if you have insect infestations, or if your bathroom is flooding, say something until it actually gets fixed. Sometimes you just have to be a pest.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
-Albert Einstein

Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolving Things in 2011

As most in the blogosphere do, I am contributing my personal list of New Year's Resolutions. And let's just assume that the old standards of improving relationships, being a better person, exercise more, and love life are already enveloped in these without explicitly doing so. Except I believe I just did explicitly do so.

Anyhow, here goes:

1) Read more! On January 1st, I picked up the classic Dune by Frank Herbert and haven't stopped yet.

2) Write - maybe a book (I have ideas!) - and definitely contribute more to this blog, Thinking Diplomatically, and other outlets.

3) Brush up on my Spanish and learn MUCH more Korean.

4) Travel. For me, this usually goes without saying, especially since I already have plans to visit about 5 new countries this year.

5) Volunteer abroad. I've wanted to this for some time now. After my year in Korea, I'd like to go to a wildlife reserve my Mom volunteered with 5 years ago in South Africa. I adore animals. Which leads me to...

6) Volunteer my time to animal shelters. I am a horrible emotional mess when it comes to animals - those ASPCA commercials make me want to curl up and bawl my eyes out for hours. I'd like to turn this energy into something useful. So, KAPS I hope you need some more Waygooks!

7) Get back in touch with people.

8) Get back into theatre and the performing arts. On both sides of the stage.

9) Cut back on the swearing. A few years ago, a few friends and I were handing out nicknames to one another. I was labelled "La Marinera" - "The Sailor." I asked, "Is it because I curse so much?" They replied with a chuckle, "No! It's because you travel so much! But now that you mention that it definitely works both ways." Frak, indeed.

10) Learn to live with less. I remarked to a friend yesterday that I was shocked at how much stuff I've accumulated in my 4 short months in Korea. This resolution could be the source of catharsis I seek as I love getting rid of things. And I believe a "don't sweat the small stuff" goes hand-in-hand with this one.

I hope each of you finds your own goal for 2011. It's the Year of the Rabbit - my year - and I feel good about it. I think some pretty fantastic things lay ahead. To all of my fellow Rabbits, let's make this one for the books! And even if it isn't your year, I hope you will be pleasantly surprised with what the new decade has to offer.

Cheers and love from South Korea,