01 June 2011

At the Halfway Mark

Wow.  Six months.  It's gone by pretty quick and I'm sure the next six months won't be any slower.  After spending half of a year here, I think I can provide a fairly accurate assessment of life in Korea.  At least in a smaller town.  I'm going to use this post talk about some of the differences and similarities and also just some of my most memorable moments. 

Top 5 Travel Spots (So Far)
1. Seoraksan - One of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.  The hike to Ulsanbawi can be a killer, but it's worth every ounce of energy.  I'm planning to revisit Seoraksan at least one more time (maybe two).

2. Seoul - Of course Seoul has to be on this list.  It has everything you would expect from an ancient capital and a modern metropolis.  The palaces are absolutely beautiful and some of the modern architecture borders on the bizarre. The nightlife is pretty awesome and definitely better than anywhere else that I have been in Korea.

3. Gyeongju - The ancient Silla capital has loads of historical buildings.  Most of the sites in the town are within walking distance of each other and the World Heritage sites of Bulguksa and Seokguram are only a half hour bus ride away.

4. DMZ - The Demilitarized Zone is a truly unique experience in Korea.  You're not going to find this anywhere else in the world and for that reason alone it really is a must-see.  I found the tour to be extremely interesting, but not quite as intimidating as I was hoping.

5. Busan - The second largest city in South Korea and its largest coastal city.  I really like the atmosphere in Busan and I'm looking forward to visiting Haeundae Beach. 

My teaching has certainly been coming along and I've enjoyed the opportunity to teach virtually all age levels.  I teach a kindergarten class and an adult class once a week.  The school is mostly made up of elementary and middle school kids with a few high school students mixed in.  So the only level I haven't had experience with is college (which happens to be the level that I would like to teach the most).  Overall I've really enjoyed teaching and I've worked out many of my original problems.  I would have to say that one of the most memorable experiences thus far was when a kid threw up in my class haha.  First time for everything I guess. 

As I have previously reported, I've really enjoyed the food in Korea.  I had never eaten Korean food at home, but I generally like pretty much anything.  The most interesting food I've had so far?  That would have to be sannakji.  Sannakji is baby octopus that they cut up right before they serve it.  The result of this is that the arms continue move around and the suction cups continue to function for about five minutes after they serve the food. Definitely the first time I've ever eaten anything that was still moving. 

Cultural Experiences
There have been two instances in which I feel I was truly immersed in Korean culture.  The first of these happened at a Silla Tea Festival in Gyeongju.  I wandered into this completely by accident, but ended up spending the next half hour or so drinking tea with Koreans and watching the festivities.  One of the Koreans then brought me to the rice-bread making expedition and let me have a go at it.  I wrote about this more extensively in my post on Gyeongju.  The other cultural experience was a Korean wedding.  One of my good friends in Korea got married in May and I had the chance to experience this event.  Overall, it wasn't too different from our weddings.  After all, it was a Christian wedding so it was held in a church.  The ceremony however seemed much less formal than the weddings that I have attended back in the states.  While the bride and groom wore normal attire for the ceremony, they later switched into traditional Korean garb, known as hanbok, and I was able to attend a brief ceremony after the actual wedding.  

Itaewon (Seoul) - Largest foreigner area in Seoul that is loaded with clubs and bars.

Sungkyunkwon University area (Seoul) - Much more of a Korean crowd, but it is located right next to a university so it has plenty to do.

Daegu Downtown - This is where I have spent the most time and this place has plenty of bars and clubs (only a couple foreigner bars though). 

My Favorite Part
I gotta say traveling.  I've been to every corner of the country and I can't wait to see what new sights I discover in the next six months. 

My Least Favorite Part
Hmmm.  Always a tough question.  I would probably say the lack of activities around Waegwan.  I would much rather be living in a city than in a small town. 

What do I still want to do?
1. Jeju Island - September 10-14 - Finalist for the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World List.  I think that says enough.

2. Boryeong Mud Festival - July 16-24 - Pretty much a huge mud fight that attracts over 2 million visitors every year.

3. Explore Gangwon-do - Probably in September - One of the more rural provinces in South Korea.  I'm looking forward to hiking some mountains and exploring some caves.

4. Daegu IAAF World Championships - August 27-September 4 - Pretty much the Olympics in the years that the Olympics aren't held.  Should be a pretty cool experience, especially considering I only live 20 minutes from Daegu.

5. Jirisan - Probably late October - Considered one of the two most important mountains on the mainland of South Korea (Seoraksan being the other).  The fall is said to be the best time to visit.

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